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Analysis: Amazon's Fire Phone

updated 04:13 pm EDT, Wed June 18, 2014

Did Amazon hit a homerun with the Fire Phone? Or is it another shoehorned Android device?

During a small event in Seattle today, Amazon confirmed the numerous rumors circling the Internet about a smartphone from the company. The Fire Phone was introduced by CEO Jeff Bezos to a crowd of 300, showing off a number of features including a 3D display and Firefly. Electronista writers Mike and Jordan offer some of their opinions on the phone's technology and hardware, the presentation and what effect the Fire Phone may have on future business.

Amazon persists with no webstream for announcements. Why not show off the power of Amazon Web Services (AWS)?

Jordan: The choice Amazon made not to show off the Fire Phone is a bit of a head scratcher to me. Considering that the event was in Seattle, an area with ample data options, Amazon shouldn't have a webcast exclusion. It makes less sense when you consider there were 60,000 people that submitted videos to attend the event. One could say there was enough demand. Given how huge events like E3 media briefings are streamed in the middle of cellular traffic crammed events, it has to be some other move from Amazon.

Mike: This bugs me. Apple's got Akamai and other streaming venues. Amazon claims to have 60 percent of the streaming market and has no issue streaming video all over the world. Why was this not webcast? Is Amazon that insecure about its technical prowess? It's not like live streaming an event is reinventing the wheel in 2014.

Jordan: I agree. With the level of streaming coverage and saturation Amazon says they have, it seems silly that they wouldn't be live streaming. If Amazon decided to utilize AWS, the company should have plenty of power to do it. They did try to give it the feel of an intimate event though. Perhaps that's why they ultimately decided not to.

Besides that, what's notable about the phone, hardware wise?

Jordan: The Fire Phone has some serious computing power inside of it. Not only is it using the Adreno 330 for graphics, but it is coming packed with a quad-core 2.2GHz processor and 2GB of RAM. Amazon made the call to use a Snapdragon 800 system on a chip here, which is a standard in high-powered Android phones and tablets these days. It does have a little less power than the Snapdragon 801 that Samsung uses in the Galaxy S5, but does use the same Adreno processor. However, if the speed of the Galaxy S5 is any indication, the Fire Phone will be able to handle most things thrown at it.

I'm torn on how to think about the camera on the back of the phone. Bezos was right to point out that a smartphone camera is generally the first we grab. However, those cameras aren't as good as many commercial or prosumer offerings. The sample image looked good, but to be fair the Galaxy camera isn't hard to beat. I love how someone finally made a phone that doesn't need a separate case.

Mike: Amazon's rolling heavy with the specs. Adreno 330, baseline 32GB storage, the beefy quad-core. It's a nice Android phone, with a design that may actually circumvent the need for a protective case. It would be really nice if they truly opened the phone up to Google Play apps, and not just the super-curated selection that they host at Amazon itself. I've said this before -- how is the Amazon app store open?

Amazon is trying to build an ecosystem like Apple's. I argue that in media consumption, it's got "The House that Jobs Built" beat. App-wise, though, not so much. We'll see how widely implemented the perspective shift thing gets, and if Firefly does well with users.

Jordan: Even though they lack the open platform of a true Android version, I think Amazon won't be phased. The Kindle tablets sell well, so there isn't much to say that a phone wouldn't.

Will Firefly help the Amazon bottom line?

Mike: Yeah, assuming the phone gets bought. Amazon claims that 60,000 people asked to come to this thing, and they accepted like 300. There's at least 50,000 people that want one, I assume. Firefly is a sales tool masquerading as a search engine, but aren't they all?

Also, this was a demo conducted under ideal circumstances. While I'm sure that Amazon won't push out a crappy product, we just don't know how well any of these features work in the real world with screaming children, store glare and other craziness impacting the user.

If you go to any store these days, there are people that bring in barcode scanners to check on prices. People "showroom" at Best Buy, and look for cheap crap to resell at thrift stores and other similar venues. This is just a formalization of the multitude of apps to do this kind of thing, this time under the Bezos banner.

Jordan: Yes. Firefly will only be effective if people go out and buy the Fire Phone. If it works in the real world, I think it would be something that customers would use all the time. However, don't forget the real reason Amazon would include a feature like this.

The key here is that it will give people an easier way to window shop at physical stores. To make it virtually effortless to buy the same object from Amazon, consumers can buy the items right then and there without having to go to another website. It is playing into impulse purchases, and driving business to Amazon in the process.

Why AT&T only?

Jordan: I wish I knew the thought process behind going with AT&T only. Launching a new product like this one, people would think it needs to go into as many hands as possible. There is sure to be some deal going on in the background to allow this, so it is probably in Amazon's favor to go exclusive.

I'm sure we'd be having the same conversation if Amazon had decided to make the phone Verizon, T-Mobile or Sprint exclusive. I don't think people would flock to AT&T for an Amazon phone, but you never know. Apple was able to pull that off.

Mike: Simple answer -- it worked for Apple. Long answer? Amazon already partners with AT&T on other things, so this is a logical extension. It stands to reason that this was a deal hammered out some time ago.

Verizon and T-Mobile fans, do not fret. I'm sure the Fire Phone will make it to you eventually. A year, maybe less. Bezos likes selling stuff too much to omit other carriers forever.

With the technology invested, why wasn't the 3D display better?

Mike: This was the big rumor, wasn't it? A revolutionary 3D interface. We didn't get one. Why Bezos thought that this would be a big thing, I don't really know. I see issues with it. Head tilting-navigation aside, the big structures on the display are going to block information the user wants to see!

Without some sort of actual 3D projection, 3D on a 2D plane is going to be clunky at best. There's no good way to show the user all the data that they want to see. This is why mapping applications only have limited 3D representations of objects, and only when that aspect causes less confusion, than more.

Jordan: For as much time as the event spent detailing and emphasizing the technology, it seems like the 3D should be a bigger deal. Yes, the perspective thing is neat. I remember the cool feeling of seeing the Parallax feature in iOS 7 for the first time. Will Amazon be able to recreate this feeling and build on it? It is hard to say without having one in my hand.

Mike: I think this may be something that a prospective user needs to fiddle with somehow before use. Not sure how that's going to work, though -- we don't even know if AT&T stores are going to stock the phone or have demo units yet.

Jordan: The technology behind the screen and the use of four cameras is really more impressive than the ability to have a dynamic perspective. Tracking a face and head to be able to get the display features has some neat ideas behind it. I just think that it is overkill for what is it trying to accomplish. I do like how the tilt commands are worked in though.

by MacNN Staff



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