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Amazon's Fire phone is 'Prime' example of customer first

Firefly button in new smartphone makes it simpler to shop online

June 18, 2014 07:30 PM ET

Computerworld - CEO Jeff Bezos finally unveiled Amazon's first smartphone on Wednesday, calling it Fire. It's a 4.7 in. HD display device with a quad-core Snapdragon 2.2 GHz processor.

The Fire goes on sale July 25 exclusively through AT&T for $200 for the 32GB version, $300 for the 64GB version, both with a two-year contract, or $649 unlocked, according to Amazon's Web site. A limited introductory offer gives new Fire owners 12 months of Amazon Prime for free, valued at $99, for access to a wide array of movies, TV shows, books, songs and products, as well as free shipping.

Amazon's Fire phone with Firefly
Amazon's Fire phone and its recognition app called Firefly. (Photo: Amazon)

Fire presumably runs on the Kindle OS, a variant of Android that is used in Amazon's Kindle tablets. Bezos and Amazon's press release didn't mention the mobile operating system in the announcement, although Amazon, on its website, said the phone comew with a "suite of built-in tools and Android apps."

The launch prompted some pundits to question whether anyone would switch from a new iPhone, or Samsung Android device to buy the Fire, but that's really not Amazon's point, several analysts said.

New features in Fire, such as its Dynamic Perspective and Firefly service make it clear that Amazon is primarily interested in connecting to its 250 million Amazon and Amazon Prime customers with a phone that makes it quick and easy to buy videos, music and other goods over the Web.

Whether that works in Amazon's favor or not is an open question.

"Jeff Bezos is asking us to think differently about smartphones, although I'm not sure that prioritizing the consuming of media and more in a phone is at the top of the list for smartphone users," said Julie Ask, an analyst at Forrester Research.

"I don't think the new hardware features like Firefly in Fire are enough to draw customers in," Ask added. "Even with a free one-year Prime membership worth $99, that's not enough to have consumers raise their hands and say I want this phone," she said.

"iPhone owners are not likely to switch over to Fire, and while it might be easier for a Samsung owner to switch over, Samsung has more core value to its phones when connected with other devices like Galaxy Gear," a smartwatch.

Several important features stand out in Fire, including Dynamic Perspective, a sensor technology that was under development for four years at Amazon. The technology relies on four front-facing cameras to create 3D effects and to allow tilting of the phone with one hand to navigate through Web sites, books and maps.

With the special Firefly button, users can scan barcodes, QR codes, Web addresses, phone numbers, songs, movies and 70 million of products, including household items, to discover more information about each.

Amazon's Fire smartphone will be available through AT&T starting July 25. A version with 32GB of memory will cost $199 and a 64GB version will cost $299 with a two-year contract.


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