OPINION

Bright and Shiny Fire Phone: Amazon Delivers

Despite entering the smartphone world late, Amazon managed to doubledown with a user-focused infusion of technical innovation to deliver acompelling new device: the Amazon Fire Phone.

The most head-turning feature is its ability to trackyour face and create a three-dimensional effect on thehome screen and in apps, which makes it seem as if you’re peering into a lavishlyillustrated diorama rather than a 2D smartphone screen.

It looks fantastic.

Promotional videos on the Amazon Fire Phone page give you a sneakpeek, but to get one in your hands, you’ll have to wait until July 25.

Will the Fire Phone Take Off?

The real questions, of course, are these: Does the Amazon Fire Phone haveenough cool features to become a coveted force in the smartphoneworld? Can it dislodge the iPhone or Samsung’s Android-leadingGalaxy line?

Will you want to buy one? Will I? Are you willing to shed your Appleecosystem investment or Google-centric Android world for Amazon’s?

In my opinion, the total package isn’t radical enough to dislodge thetwo big market leaders, but the execs at every other manufacturer — includingMicrosoft — are probably swearing up a storm in their offices rightnow, if not knocking back a couple of shots of powerful booze.

The Fire Phone is sure to be a hit with Amazon’s mostengaged customers — which, as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos noted during thepresentation, was a driving factor to produce it in thefirst place. That is, Amazon wanted to improve the smartphone and the shopping experience for its customers.

Smart play, definitely.

More Than a Pretty Face

Let’s take a closer look at the details — first, those 3D effects.Called “dynamic perspective,” the Amazon invention creates a 3D-likeeffect by scanning your face with four ultra-low power cameras andfour infrared LEDs built into the front face of the Fire, which sportsa 4.7-inch screen. Amazon uses a dedicated custom processorwith computer vision algorithms, combined with a new power-efficientrendering engine.

Dynamic Perspective lets you use one-handed gestures toauto-scroll through long Web pages or read e-books without having totouch the screen. If you tilt while using Amazon Music, the Fire Phonewill show you song lyrics. A swivel can reveal quick actions, orshow you things like Yelp ratings and reviews in the Amazon Maps app.

The Maps app, by the way, which Amazon didn’t talk about in anygreat detail, lets you view cities with the same 3D-dioramic sort ofeffect.

Fire With Amazon Maps

Fire With Amazon Maps

With Dynamic Perspective, games will sport a whole new feel — andmaybe even a higher level of addiction. When combined with the Amazonecosystem of products, the Fire Phone will let shoppers look atproduct images from multiple angles with a three-dimensional feel.

Of course, Amazon was smart to release a software developer kit to letthird-party app developers tap into Dynamic Perspective to build gamesand apps. If their ideas take off and create some killer new apps only available on the Fire Phone, Amazon could seriously start attracting some switchers.

Beyond 3D With Firefly

While Dynamic Perspective will bring a whole new level of realism anda more tangible feel to a flat smartphone screen — don’tcurved screens seem like a suddenly quaint idea? — Amazondidn’t stop at fancy 3D work and call it good: Enter Firefly.

Fire With Firefly

Fire With Firefly

Firefly basically lets your Fire Phone camera look at a product in thereal world — like a magazine, book, jar of peanut butter — andidentify it. The next step? You can see the product for sale — onAmazon, of course — right through your phone, easy to buy.

That’s obviously a revenue generator for Amazon, butFirefly can do more — like read QR and bar codes, and identifyemail addresses and phone numbers from posters, magazine pages orprinted signs. To use it, simply press and hold a dedicated Fireflybutton on the side of the Fire Phone.

Firefly doesn’t just see — it can listen, too, identifyingsongs or recognizing movies and TV episodes just from a bit of audio. Judging by thedemonstrations and claims made by Amazon, it all looks to work veryquickly.

For example, to recognize a phone number on a poster for alost kitten, Firefly will scan an image of the poster, remove allimage information except for a phone number and text that you’relikely interested in, and send a tiny amount of image data up toAmazon’s servers in the sky for processing, which then sends the phonenumber back to your Fire Phone so you can actually use it.

The bottomline is, there’s a lot of stuff going behind the scenes, and it seemsto represent a helluva leap forward in the text, object, media andbrand recognition space — all jammed into a single Amazon Fireflyapp.

Amazon is courting developers here, too: The Firefly SDK isavailable today so developers can infuse it into their own apps. Vivino, for instance, will use it for wine label recognition.

Firefly Looks Awesome

There is something about Firefly that piqued my interest more than theimaging and database ninjutsu — the look and feel. When you invokeFirefly, a bunch of tiny points of light swarm around the image you’retrying to process. They seem alive and active, friendly and working –like fireflies buzzing around with a job to do.

The simplicity andcreativity of this single feature is just one reason I think the Amazon Fire Phone has a chance to delight customersand spark adoption.

Firefly has the potential to take an everyday tooland turn it into an experience that builds a relationship with yourphone. Humans are creatures with emotion, most of us, and Amazon ispersonifying the Fire Phone with well-thought-out features likeFirefly and Dynamic Perspective.

These are the powerful new features that have real potential toelevate the Fire Phone.

Meanwhile, What About the Core Specs?

The Fire Phone is built with solid specs that rival today’ssmartphones. It has a super-bright 4.7-inch screen that you can seewith sunglasses on. The processor is a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon2.2 GHz with 2 GB of RAM powerhouse.

It has a 13-megapixel rear camerawith a 5-element f/2.0 lens with optical image stabilization. Plus,the Fire Phone has an instant-on physical side button that will launchthe camera app (which I sorely wish the iPhone had).

At launch, a 32-GB version will go for US$199 with a two-year AT&T contractor $299 for 64 GB. For a limited time, you can snag one year of AmazonPrime for free, too, which is a $99 value. If you’re already a Primecustomer, this 12 months of Prime will extend your service by 12months — a great deal if you care about Prime, which gives you fastershipping from Amazon along with Netflix-like streaming movie, TV show,and music services.

When you combine the Fire Phone with the Fire TV and Kindle Firetablet ecosystem of devices and content, a consumer can, relativelyeasily, choose to leap away from the Apple or Google Android-focusedecosystems. Amazon is covering what a vast majority of customersreally want.

Achilles’ Heels?

Unfortunately, by offering service only through AT&T, Amazon willdefinitely slow its rollout potential, giving its competitors time tocome up with similar sorts of solutions.

The pricing is relatively thesame as all the other smartphones on the market, so there’s no newcompelling cost justification to leap into a Fire Phone.

The curatedAmazon Fire App store has about 240,000 apps, while well over a millionapps can run on other versions of Android or Apple’s iOS.

How will theFire Phone perform as a phone? Will it have great call quality? Asimple usability error could doom Amazon’s first effort.

Still, the wild card is how a world of people react to the immersivedesign. Once the Fire Phone gets into customers’ hands and theyshare the experience with their friends and family, it will makeevery other smartphone seem flat and stale … assuming theoverall user interface is usable. Fast. Easy. Intuitive.

Real-worlduse will show whether Amazon nailed it or not. The basics matter, butinnovation can help people overlook minor flaws. Amazon’s two newpowerful innovations — Dynamic Perspective and Firefly — havehuge potential to attract customers. Combined with a few killer newapps, the Fire Phone has truly impressive potential, especially for acompany’s first-ever smartphone.

I know I’m looking forward to getting my hands on one.

TechNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at WickedCoolBite.com. You can also connect with him on Google+.

Leave a Comment

Please sign in to post or reply to a comment. New users create a free account.

TechNewsWorld Channels