The juggernaut online shopping site finally announced it's first entry into the world of smartphones — the Fire Phone. And although the device doesn't blow away the most powerful smartphones available, the specs aren't shabby:
- Forked Android called Fire OS
- 4.7-inch IPS LCD HD (1280 x 720) display
- 2.2 GHz quad-core processor
- Adreno 330 GPU
- 2 GB of RAM
- 32 GB or 64 GB of internal storage
- 13 MP rear camera with f/2.0 aperture and OIS
- Dual stereo speakers
- Dedicated camera shutter button
- Gorilla Glass 3
- Rubber frame
- Aluminum buttons
- Injection-molded steel connectors
- Tangle-free earbuds
Not bad for a first outing. But even with the nice specs and the backing of a massive company like Amazon, the Fire Phone hits the ground running with a tear in its Achilles.
Android and Google.
One of the things that makes the Android platform so stellar is the vast amount of apps available on the Google Play Store, including the official Google apps. However, the Fire Phone will not have access to these — no Gmail, no Google Drive, no Google+ (unless alternatives start showing up). That could mean the Fire Phone will be relegated to casual users only. Business power users, those accustomed to the incredible flexibility and high-quality Android apps from Google need not apply.
It's clear the Amazon Appstore is in direct competition with the Google Play Store, and the chances of having both on the Fire Phone are pretty much nil. But overlooking the business landscape by shrugging off Google Apps could be a bit short-sighted. The Android platform and Google services go hand in hand. To remove them is to remove a serious chunk out of productivity. Can the Fire Phone surmount this one major hurdle? Can you take the Android platform, strip the "Google" from it, and still come up with a winner?
Keep in mind that this is Amazon... a company with plenty of tricks up its sleeve. But can the one major trick — shopping — be enough?
That's right, the Fire Phone will help you buy products from, guess who, Amazon. I'm not saying this as if it's a bad thing. In fact, I find it quite brilliant. You hear a song you like, so you let your Fire Phone hear it and it helps you easily purchase that song on Amazon.com. The Fire Phone also includes an app called Firefly. Open the App, point the camera to any one of 100 million items, press the dedicated camera button, and Firefly will recognize the item (almost instantaneously) and allow you to take action on the item (or store it for later use).
And then there's Mayday. The Kindle Fire comes with an app that allows you, with the tap of an icon, to get help with your device. The Fire Phone includes this very same app/service, which gives you 24/7/365 free tech support.
As I mentioned in a previous article, the Amazon device will have a 3D display. The interface that makes use of the four front-facing cameras knows if you're tilting the phone to the left, right, up, or down — and the perspective on the interface updates 60 times per second. Of course, what good is this feature if it doesn't make shopping even better? That's right, you can view items on Amazon from different views now. Shopping in 3D, thanks to the Fire Phone.
That's a lot of innovation going into a mobile device. But when you consider that the one true goal of the device is not really to serve as a smartPHONE, but a smartSHOPPER, it all becomes so clear. Amazon knows what it is, and it knows how to get product to people. Consider the fact that it single-handedly changed the landscape of book publishing, while everyone else struggled to solve that puzzle. Now, with the help of a modified Android platform, Amazon has merged mobile devices and consumerism in a way no one else possibly could.
How will this phone fare? If the Kindle is any indication, it will fare well. And Amazon already has a carrier in AT&T, so the barrier to entry is nil. The big question is will the features of the Fire Phone be enough to pull users from their current devices. My guess is that, by rolling in the Amazon Prime bonus, Amazon will slowly build up steam and chisel away a sizable chunk of the mobile market share within the first year.
I have to confess, I shop Amazon.com quite a lot (unless it's a product I can by from a locally-owned business). Having access to Prime content, unlimited cloud storage, and Firefly might be enough to woo me to the Fire Phone. But the mobile market is tight and I cannot say, with any certainty, how much success the Fire Phone will enjoy. My best guess is that this new take on the smartphone is just unique enough and has the backing of a massively powerful company to succeed — on a major level. I do believe the Fire Phone will require word of mouth more than any other device. People will want to see it in action, and when they do, they'll want it... at least casual users who don't depend on their smartphone to get real work done.
Should Apple, Samsung, Motorola, HTC, and LG be afraid? I would have to say they should at least be concerned. Amazon knows what its doing. The Kindle has proven the company knows how to use a device to help get product to users. When consumers witness just how easy the Fire Phone makes shopping for them, "game changer" could be the term best applied to Amazon's new device. We live in a world of convenience, and Amazon has done everything in its power to position itself as the ruler of convenience. With the Fire Phone, Amazon might well set the mobile world on fire.
What do you think? Will the Fire Phone succeed, or is it just a gimmick that will have little to no impact on the mobile market?
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.