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Amazon’s phone is its biggest recent misstep

Amazon Fire Phone

Amazon is a company that wants to sell everything and it has created devices such as the Kindle Paperwhite and the Kindle Fire to facilitate this end goal. There are apps by Amazon that allow you to take a picture of an item in the store with your phone and pull up comparable Amazon products (if not the very same product). There are shopping apps, reading apps, music apps, and video apps for every platform because Amazon wants to be everything to everyone everywhere. It makes perfect sense that Amazon would want a phone.

A phone is a device that people take with them everywhere including to bed. 64% of people between the ages of 18 and 24 are falling asleep with their phones in their hands–or at least under their pillows. Naturally, Amazon wants to be in a person’s hands from sunup to sundown and the way to do that is the phone.

But the cellphone market is a crowded space and even Apple is struggling to keep up. It’s losing ground to Samsung, Nokia, and others in both the big screen size and the entry level version. It’s feature set isn’t as rich as the Windows or Android devices. There’s an arms race to not only produce the most feature rich phone but the phone that can communicate with wearables and the home.

IOS 8 had a lot to do with home automation. Recently Google bought Nest, a company that built a thermostat, for $3.2 billion in cash. This coming week, Google is launching Moto 360, the second of its wearable tech devices. (The first being the awful Google Glass) Rumors are abuzz with the iWatch supposedly launching in October to be announced in September.

Amazon’s exciting news? So boring it led investors to drop stock. Now I get Bezos doesn’t care about that stuff (ostensibly) but after weeks of unrelenting bad press due to the fight with Hachette, it could have used a boost. (Also, this statement is not a judgment for or against Amazon in its fight with Hachette which is a battle between two businesses not one for the cultural heart of America).

Engadget, which had a fairly positive review of the phone, said this:

Spec-wise, it isn’t the most impressive phone, despite commanding a $199 price tag on-contract ($650 off-contract). But it’s not horrible either — it’s simply what you’d expect from an average phone.

PC Magazine did a comparison against the Samsung Galaxy S5 that is the same price. PC calls it “a bit less technically impressive” because in every area, the Fire has less power. It has a less powerful processor, a less powerful camera, a less powerful video resolution, a less bright screen.

Priced at $200 with a two year contract, you get an average phone for what Bezos calls a premium device. Amazon tried to tout the Dynamic Perspective which allows for the phone to give a 3D like appearance to menus and a quick peek at things like battery life or time. But 3D isn’t really a feature that most people like. Witness the decline in 3D movies or the poor sales of 3D televisions leading television companies to abandon 3D technology or the fact that people hated the parallax motion on the iPhone. The four of the first five search results on google for parallax motion is how to turn it off, including the Apple support page.

Screenshot 2014-06-21 22.16.46

While it has bluetooth LE capabilities, it isn’t enabled. Bluetooth LE is how wearables like a watch speak to the phone. So all the big phone companies like Apple, Samsung, and Google are looking to develop wearables and household tech while Amazon comes up with a phone that has features that no one really wants (Dynamic Perspective) and leaves out ones that they do (Bluetooth LE).

The two standout features are Mayday–where you can call a person live and have them help you–and Firefly–which allows you to point the phone at anything in your house and Amazon will pull up the corresponding item for purchase. Are those features enough for you to tie yourself to an average phone for two years?

The worst thing about the Amazon Phone Fire launch isn’t its featureless phone and the terrible name and the pedantic design. The worst thing is that it shows how truly unimaginative and uninspired the design and tech team that is working on the device/hardware side at Amazon is.

Given the lackluster product line by Amazon from it’s boring but super functional paperwhite to the okay Kindle tablets to the uninteresting Kindle phone, there’s simply no hope that they can produce anything of interest in the future. There’s no point in looking forward to future Amazon device launches because they don’t have it in their current DNA to come up with anything interesting.

Bezos keeps throwing free movies, free songs, and free books at us, but I’m bored. Sure, they have the cheapest prices around and I love my Amazon Prime but if the idea is to hook me into the Amazon ecosystem through hardware, Bezos and company needs to do a lot better. Color me unimpressed.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Nate
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 07:44:23

    There’s no apostrophe in the possessive form of its.

  2. Teddypig
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 09:05:15

    Jane get this the operating system is called Fire 3.5, which is based on a forked version of Android 4.2.2 all the latest bluetooth stuff was added to Android in version 4.3

    So guess what? SO even the OS for this thing is nowhere near up to snuff and it was built to be that way on purpose.

  3. Sunita
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 09:22:06

    Great post, Jane. I was kind of shocked at how underwhelming this phone was. 3D? Really? It reminded me of the first Kindle, in all its boxiness and lack of aesthetic appeal.

    I get that the phone is designed to turn the user into a walking, talking, showroomer who buys everything at Amazon. But they could have hidden the true point of it a little better, or at least given us some bells and whistles to go with it.

    Also, I can’t believe people are going to pay $199 to lock into a smartphone that’s already behind the curve.

  4. Darlynne
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 09:34:26

    I realize Amazon has always gone its own way, but sometimes reinventing what’s already out there–and not even the best of what’s out there–doesn’t make any sense. They would have been better served partnering with a Nokia or Samsung device to provide a blend of all that is good about cell phones and exciting about Amazon. I have no idea what that would look like, but then I’m not a designer and would never have attempted such a thing.

  5. Keishon
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 10:27:18

    Also, I can’t believe people are going to pay $199 to lock into a smartphone that’s already behind the curve.

    Plus with a two year agreement! Hilarity ensues.

  6. Mike Cane
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 11:06:18

    >>> There’s no point in looking forward to future Amazon device launches because they don’t have it in their current DNA to come up with anything interesting.

    One of those sentences that could haunt you in the future.

  7. Jane
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 11:33:00

    @Mike Cane: I want to be wrong. I want to be surprised and amazed.

  8. Maria (BearMountainBooks)
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 12:15:34

    The world really didn’t need another phone. It’s odd because a few years ago, Amazon was cutting edge with its e-readers. Since they, they haven’t been able to break into anything fast enough to be “first and best.” Even their lending program (via prime for books) fell so far short of what readers wanted, they may as well get rid of it. SCRIBD has surpassed them quite easily (and surprisingly–I had no idea there was a market for lending, but it appears there is).

    Maybe instead of working on a saturated market, they need to come up with something creative. It’s too late to enter the phone arena, especially with just “another” average phone.

  9. Michael W. Perry
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 12:32:24

    Apple’s iOS 7 shipped with a mild 3-D effect on its screens. Using the gyroscope sensors, it would shift the display slightly as an iPhone or iPad was rotated to the right or left. Deciding it was pointless and a little weird, I disabled it. I suspect that a lot of people who look at this Amazon phone will decide the same.

    Given the hype, I’d wondered if it was something far more powerful and that worked a bit like the helmets in some military hardware, the equivalent looking at something pointed a machine gun at it. I wouldn’t like that, but some might.

    My hunch is that this’ll attract Amazon fanboys but few others. Kind of a disappointment actually. I’d rather see Amazon spend its development on something actually useful, like updating the InDesign plug-in to ID-CC or giving us the KF8 equivalent of fixed-format ePub.

  10. Jody
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 14:56:20

    It’s too bad AT&T is the Fire Phone’s service provider. Even if the FP teleported or sent holograms instead of text messages, that’s reason enough to wait on future generations.

    BTW, the $199 includes a year of Amazon Prime.

    My husband has gone through three pretty expensive and loathesome Android phones in the three years I’ve had my iPhone 4. He’s looking at new phones; I’m not.

    I’m not a fan of Apple’s business practices or attitude, but it has cornered the market on solid, intuitive, dependable, user friendly technology. The Fire Phone can’t compete with my three year old iPhone.

  11. Jody
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 14:59:30

    Just one more thing, since I seem to be on a rant; why is it that the Kindle for iPad is so much more reader friendly than any of the Kindles?

  12. Maite
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 15:16:51

    Honestly, by now, I don’t care that much about graphics, camera, etc.
    If I want that, I’ll get a tablet.
    What I do want is a wireless phone with 3G. That means: battery life of over two days even if I make phone calls, no phantom 3G (ya know, when the phone says it has 3G, but for all intent and purposes its dead), phone calls that don’t get interrupted just because the phone felt like it…
    Maybe, if Amazon is planning on not being at the cutting edge of technology, they could jump back to a 3G capable phone with Bluetooth LE, which could be use as a remote control for whatever wearables they decide to come up with later.
    I’d tie myself for two years to that, at an acceptable price, of course.

  13. Caroline
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 15:51:48

    @Jody: You are so right re: AT&T.

  14. txvoodoo
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 17:15:59

    I’m a huge lover of things Amazon, and enjoy my Fire & Kindle every day.

    But they lost me on this when they made AT&T their service carrier. Blech.

  15. azteclady
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 23:07:40

    Even the search function sucks. Try searching for an author–any author–and see how soon you get totally random results. With all authors I’ve tried, I’ve gotten random authors by the second page, and the other day, a book by somewhere else was the first book up–when I’m searching for a correctly spelled name, mind you!

  16. azteclady
    Jun 22, 2014 @ 23:08:13

    @azteclady: *sigh*

    A book by someONE else.

    I need sleep.

  17. jane
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 15:29:21

    I’ll just say, don’t count Amazon out because of a device. Their strength is in services, not devices; and their services are device-agnostic. On hardware, they’re learning. It took them a few tries to get the Kindle right but the Kindle Fire is pretty good now (although I don’t personally own one.) Releasing a phone is less about the hardware than Amazon’s acknowledgement that phones and tablets are converging and pretty soon we’re not going to have two devices, but one that is in-between. I think it makes more sense if you think of this as not a “phone” but as the next Kindle/tablet with phone capabilities. (I don’t know about you all but the thing I use my iPhone for the LEAST is its telephonic capabilities. It almost doesn’t make sense to call these things phones anymore.)

    That said, totally agree about the 3D. I don’t get that. As for AT&T, I hate them too, but the iPhone also launched with AT&T exclusivity, so maybe it won’t matter to most consumers?

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