Jun 182014
 
Does the world really need another Android smartphone?  Amazon hopes it does; we suspect it doesn't.

Does the world really need another Android smartphone? Amazon hopes it does; we suspect it doesn’t.

History is repeating itself, and Amazon is not learning from its past mistakes.  Amazon’s announcement of its long anticipated cell phone on Wednesday showed a phone with interesting features, but almost surely fatal weaknesses.

One of the big problems with the phone is the same problem that already exists with Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets – the limited subset of Android that you can access with the device.

In the case of the Kindle Fire tablet, at least Amazon offered rock bottom pricing and top quality feature sets, but even with those plus points, the once substantial market share of the Fire has dropped down to immeasurable irrelevance at around 1% of tablet sales during the last quarter.  Astonishingly, the enormous marketing giant that is Amazon can’t even keep hold of a 1% market share in tablets, and this at a time when Apple’s market share is plunging and there’s plenty of market share ‘up for grabs’.

Although we agree the Kindle Fire doesn’t even deserve a 1% market share, we’re astonished that Amazon hasn’t done a better job of selling the tablet to some ‘low lying fruit’ market sectors such as people unfamiliar with tablets but highly trusting of Amazon.

And now we have the Fire phone.  It too is powered by an Amazon-limited subset of the Android operating system, and it too is designed to be not just a phone, but also a conduit into the Amazon eco-system, making it easy to buy products on Amazon, and also, for Amazon Prime members, to stream free video, listen to free music, and read free books.

The phone itself is a reasonably decent, middle of the road type smartphone.  It has two special features.  One is a set of four cameras on the front that are all the time looking at you to understand where your head and eyes are and what you are looking at, and to sometimes adjust the image you see on the phone screen accordingly.  These cameras will even see you in the dark, because there are four invisible infra-red beams also shining at you from the phone.  Those of us who still like at least a pretense of privacy can decide how much we like the idea of a phone which is watching us, nonstop, day and night.

The other special feature, called ‘Firefly’, uses the various cameras on the phone (it has six in total)to recognize things you photograph.  And, once it has recognized something, it will, ahem, offer to sell it to you through your Amazon account.  If nothing else, this will make it much easier to comparison price shop when browsing through a bricks and mortar store, something most of us probably do from time to time.

Firefly will also recognize not just objects but phone numbers, songs, television programs and movies, and to be fair, Firefly will also offer to tell you interesting things about the objects it recognizes as well as offer to sell them to you.

I’d be tempted to get one of these phones, and so too might many other people, so as to play with its novel new features and perhaps to take advantage of the Firefly feature for price comparisons and easy Amazon shopping.  But – and here’s the problem.

The phone is expensive.  Way way too expensive.  It is also available only with AT&T.  If you sign up for a new two-year contract, you’re paying $199 or $299 for the phone depending on its storage capacity, plus probably a minimum of about $100 a month to AT&T for service.

If you want the phone with no service plan, be ready to pay $649 for a 32GB phone or $749 for a 64GB phone – and still then pay something a month, probably $50 or more with T-Mobile (the phone is compatible with T-Mobile voice frequencies and at least some T-mobile data frequencies; but is not compatible with Verizon or Sprint voice).

For a limited time the phone comes complete with a year of free Amazon Prime membership (otherwise costing $99).  It will be available for sale/delivery on 25 July.

So, a very expensive phone with very restricted distribution.  How successful do you think that will be?

Most of all, the biggest aspect of the phone – and the biggest benefit to Amazon – is probably its Firefly product recognition feature.  How long will it be before Amazon releases this as a free app on all other smartphones?  Just like Amazon has released its Kindle ereading software free for every other possible computer platform, won’t it seek to release the Firefly service as widely as possible, too?  It is clearly in Amazon’s best interests to make it as easy as possible for everyone to buy everything from them, all the time, and so Firefly should be released for free to all smartphones as soon as possible.

So we see no reason at all to choose this phone, and plenty of reasons not to.  The  most fire like aspect of this phone will probably be the fire-sale process in which Amazon finds itself eventually forced to unload a massive quantity of unsold handsets.

Our pick for best phone currently?  ‘None of the above’.  Force yourself to be patient, like us, and wait for the new iPhone 6 – hopefully to be released in September.  If current rumors are close to correct, Apple will finally catch up with the rest of the market and offer us a phone with a decent sized screen, and we feel it definitely worth waiting the short while until then in the hope the new iPhone 6 will be all it potentially could be.

  12 Responses to “Amazon’s Fire Phone Failure”

  1. The iPhone 6 is another vastly overpriced phone. We need better value phones the margins on these phones is absurd and Apple is probably one of the highest. Let’s hope there is a Nexus 6 (the Nexus 5 is currently great value) or that OnePlus can actually produce enough phones.

  2. I was looking forward to some good competition in the smart phone market from Amazon. I can’t believe they made the same arrogant mistake regarding the OS! I am particularly amazed as well that they are not aggressive on the price. They have made a religion of selling stuff below cost, why stop now?

    I guess a potential first time ever profit at Amazon is even farther away than I thought.

    Kevin C

  3. For those of us who prefer the Android open system to Apple’s closed system, it looks like the new LG 3 will be the way to go.

  4. […] and notes from around the interweb: Amazon’s Fire Phone Failure Vanilla gift cards, including OneVanilla, can no longer be used effectively at Walmart. A good […]

  5. Apple finally catch up with Android? Not likely, unless we’re talking about an older version of Android. Apple makes very solid devices, but they lost their innovative blue ribbon some time ago.

  6. No more S5’s, i7’s or G3’s for me. Midrange phones are now good enough for my needs. No more sense in bleeding edge and crazy expensive models. I buy ’em unlocked and un-contracted these days. Suits me fine. More interested in the Moto G LTE than this thing.

  7. Amazon, how did you go so wrong?

    Amazon is bringing out a new phone that has – gasp! – 3D!. And you can shop from it! Wow, can you do that with any phone? Yes. Then why the Amazon bringing out an overpriced, underperforming phone? Because you can scan an item and the phone will take you to the Amazon store so yo can buy it. Isn’t that wonderful? For Amazon, maybe.

    Amazon’s new phone has 6 cameras. Two standard forward/backward cameras and 4 that sense your face while viewing the screen. It’s supposed to give you an enhanced view of your screen. You know what Amazon? I want a phone that works. Period. One with decent battery life and a solid connection.

    Amazon has decided to partner with AT&T. Yikes. Hard to imagine a worse choice. In spite of their surveys, AT & T has a terrible reputation in the real world. Dropped calls and all kinds of service problems. And their lack of customer service is legendary. And expensive. The cheapest usable plan with this phone is nearly $100 a month for one line. Are you kidding me?

    Do you know what Compaq, Tandy & IBM all have in common? They all went out of business because they had proprietary equipment. Compaq and IBM had their own OSes. Tandy equipment could only be bought at Radio Shack. And all of them had their own equipment and hardware interfaces that made it difficult, if not impossible, to use equipment, like memory, from any other source.

    How many different types and brands of watches are there in the world? 200-300. And what do they do? They tell time. If you see a watch and you have difficulty telling what the time is, you are not going to buy that watch again.

    Amazon is going to learn the hard way. No one wants to be locked into one system. Make a better product and stop trying to railroad everyone into using your own idea of what should be.

    • I agree with Seawatch’s assessment of the Fire Phone, but Amazon will probably still sell a ton of them. Amazon, afterall, has sold a ton of Kindles and they’ll promote them mercilessly on their home page for months.

      AT&T, on the other hand, may not be all Sweetness and Light, but the dropped calls and horrible customer service issues are not the current problem. (Their cost structure is.)

      When they had the exclusive iPhone deal, they vastly underestimated their users’ data needs and couldn’t deliver. The dropped calls issue was for the same reason – they didn’t have enough towers where all the Apple Fan Boys resided. But that’s pretty much behind them. Their customer service, at least in my experience, was never an issue… they have some of the best damned CS reps in the galaxy. Comcast should take note.

      • I’m not an Apple fan but i do have an Ipod, 3rd gen and it’s good and so is their support for the most part. But Amazon is going to find out fairly quickly that their fan base is not as strong as Apple’s. Some how Apple sold millions of $800 phones. An $800 phone! Really? Does anyone NEED such a piece of garbage? No.

        But that aside, Amazon’s phone is $200 to start and it doesn’t run all the apps that are out there. And who wants to pay around $100 month or more to AT&T for crappy service. Their customer support is a total mess and there hardware like towers and such is horrible. As is most of their internet service.

        Amazon apparently did not do its research on quality services, then went with whoever would give then the biggest kick back. And when you’re locked into a phone service, it can cost you as much as $700 to cancel the service early.

        Sign me up and pass the Vaseline.

      • I’ve always been a happy AT&T customer, too. Lots of people seem to love to hate them, but I think many formed that opinion without fairly comparing AT&T to the then current problems other companies were also experiencing. Even today, I seem to have better coverage with AT&T than T-Mobile. I just wish AT&T would match T-Mobile’s wonderful new pricing and product strategies.

        • I didn’t mean to come across as a hater. But I do get frustrated with poor service and /or low quality products. I know there are a lot of happy AT&T customers, but in most ways I’m not one. We have AT&T cable/internet/phone service at our house and there is always some small problem to deal with. On the other hand, my personal cell phone service is with Virgin Mobile which I believe runs on top of Sprint.Every couple of months I have to “re- register” my phone or I won’t get calls. People will tell me they’ve called me and three days later I’ll get a flashing light on my phone telling me I have a call. I check and the call is 3-4 days old. Customer service just tells me to re – register the phone, but how does that help me when there seems to be no set interval for doing so?

          I’ve worked in tech support for different brands of computer companies and I can’t tell you how much their antiquated policies do more damage than help.

          So if I am a hater, it’s of stupidity and arrogance.There is too much acceptance of poor service. Yes, anyone, especially me, can make mistakes, but they shouldn’t be allowed to continue making those same mistakes just because they own your ass with an abusive contract.

  8. […] you may have noticed, I sent out a review of the new Amazon phone last week, and today I’m attaching a piece that brings you up to speed (if you’re not […]

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