Amazon Fire dubbed an 'experiment in e-commerce' with lessons for future phones

Firefly button lessens friction in buying, which is what Amazon wants to learn about for future generations

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Firefly lets users push a button to scan millions of objects, including products, or a QR code to get more information, then to easily evaluate or even buy them on Of the UserTesting group, 84% said it was their top or second favorite feature in the Fire and 70% ranked it a 4 or 5 out of 5 for ease of use. A series of six short video clips from UserTesting on YouTube shows how Firefly works, along with other Fire technologies.

Dynamic Perspective is a 3D-like technology that relies on four cameras with infrared LED on the front of the phone to follow where a person looks to alter the angle of items being viewed on the display. In the UserTesting group, some users said Dynamic Perspective was "cool" but also "gimmicky" and not especially useful except for in games. Using the technology for auto scrolling wasn't responsive enough.

A Carousel Navigation feature in Fire, which works by tilting the phone to scroll left or right or up or down, was judged least easy to use by the UserTesting testers. Most found it confusing.

Meanwhile, the Mayday button in the Fire smartphone got high ease-of-use scores from the testers to connect quickly to a live help desk agent appearing in video on the screen of the phone. But many said they had problems finding the Mayday button. Mayday was first used in the Kindle Fire HDX tablet, introduced last year.

Mace said the popularity of Firefly is something Amazon will pay special attention to, mainly as a means to find more ways to streamline the online mobile-buying experience. What holds back most e-commerce sellers today is the difficulty buyers have in picking a product and then making an actual purchase after going through a number of steps to get there.

If Amazon can streamline that buying process and reduce buyer "friction" in a purchase, it will put other e-commerce companies at a disadvantage, Mace said. "Other e-commerce companies don't have a phone, which Amazon now does," he said. "The bigger danger that Amazon has faced is if they let somebody else beat them to this."

What matters in sales of the initial Fire device is getting enough buyers to help evaluations for future versions, Mace believes.

"It doesn't look like the Fire will wipe out Android or the iPhone, but this is an experiment to get enough sales to get user feedback," he said. "Version 2 or 3 will be the one to watch. The Fire is a first version of an experiment in e-commerce."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at  @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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