Sunday, June 29, 2014

Amazon unveils the Fire Phone

Amazon’s smartphone is finally here, said James O’Toole in CNN.com. CEO Jeff Bezos last week unveiled the long-rumored smartphone, dubbed the Amazon Fire Phone, but while the device boasts some unique capabilities, it may “not be enough to win over many new customers.” One obstacle is the price. Starting at $199, the Fire Phone costs the same as the latest offerings from Apple and Samsung. So what do you get in return? For one, Fire has a “dynamic perspective” feature, which uses four front-facing cameras to track a user’s head movements, allowing graphics to be rendered in 3-D. But while app developers may yet find “clever new ways” to use the feature, on its own, it’s little more than a gimmick. A more intriguing innovation is called Firefly, which uses the phone’s camera to identify objects—books, games, food, household items—and then gives users “the option to buy all that stuff instantly on Amazon.”

But will consumers really spend hundreds on a phone “just to make it easier to buy more stuff”? asked Mary Branscombe in ZDNet.com. Probably. Several market surveys have shown that many Americans either are or want to be shopping with their smartphones. Because “the technology in the Fire Phone is really all about shopping,” it may appeal to those users. Plus, with data breaches becoming more commonplace, some customers may “feel more comfortable about the security of shopping on Amazon through an Amazon phone.” For others, the idea that Amazon will know “everything about your shopping habits” may prove “a little disturbing.”

For Amazon, the Fire’s utility as a phone is beside the point, said Laura Heller in Forbes .com. What really matter are “the features and functionality that will more closely connect users” to Amazon’s products and services. And if the Fire does catch on, it could be “devastating to retailers,” which stand to lose more shoppers now that they can “instantly compare prices and buy an item they find for less on Amazon.”

And Amazon isn’t just taking aim at brick-and-mortar stores, said Issie Lapowsky in Wired.com. With the Fire Phone, “Amazon is making an aggressive move into Apple and Google’s territory.” The tech giants already compete in a host of categories, including shopping, Web searching, advertising, and home entertainment. The ultimate goal for all these companies “is not to relinquish an inch of market share to anyone else.” To accomplish that, they are looking to “own the entire supply chain, from the time a product is advertised to where and how it’s purchased to the delivery of the product.” If they also happen to own a device that can facilitate all of that, “so much the better.”
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