The closest analogy I can come up with to describe the Amazon Fire Phone presentation is that it was like watching someone stroke a guitar that’s perfectly tuned on half its strings. There was the inclusion of the genuinely-useful Mayday feature into the phone – and then there was the bizarre backstory behind the 4 camera head-tracking feature – complete with a video appearance by a creepy mannequin head. There was Firefly, which made 100 million objects identifiable by the phone – and then there was the $300 starting price. I was alternating between nodding for 10 minutes and shaking my head for the next 10.
I’ve heard it articulated by many pundits that – for high-end product categories like the iPhone and iPad – it would take an absolute home run to compete. Attacking the low end is a strategy, but any Android OEM not named Samsung will tell you it’s not a very profitable one. The Fire Phone cuts an impressive swath of air but ultimately corkscrews itself into the ground.
“But,” I hear people protest “Amazon isn’t competing with Apple; it’s offering a way to more efficiently pipeline its wares to consumers!”
Is it giving the Fire Phone away?
Then no, it’s not.
For the Fire Phone to be an effective way for people to spend more on Amazon’s services require either 1. A phone significantly cheaper than the iPhone or 2. A phone so feature-compelling as to justify an iPhone-like price. The Fire Phone has some intriguing features, but blooping singles isn’t going to win Amazon any share against a company that clears the fences every year. People aren’t going to be mainlining Prime if they don’t buy the phone.
You could see this same type of not-compelling-enough competitor to an Apple product 3 months ago when Amazon presented the Fire TV. A snazzy voice command feature and some slick device specs were soiled by a UI that heavily favored Amazon’s own content at the expense of all content available. There’s already a device serving content from a siloed ecosystem – it’s called the AppleTV, jackasses. Fire TV’s search was a feature perfectly poised to attack a shortcoming of Apple’s product. Instead? A swing and a miss. And then there’s the creepiness factor.
What was the point of the 4 cameras on the face of the phone again? To track your head in space even if one or two of the camera was obstructed? Why the hell do you need to track someone’s head to do something that can be accomplished by tilting the phone? Was Bezos asleep during the whole “this is how the NSA surreptitiously takes control of your smartphone” thing when he dreamt up a phone with 4 front-facing cameras that leer at you constantly? By watching him gleefully go on about discerning people heads from inanimate ones, you’d never know it. People don’t want to socialize with people who have cameras strapped to their faces and people don’t want a smartphone that is constantly scanning their visage and recording their voice just so they can buy cheap Lightning cables more efficiently.
So the Fire Phone, much like the Fire TV, is a bizarre conflagration of features that delight, then puzzle, then creep you the fuck out. I’m starting to think of Amazon as Google with higher-end kit and faster delivery.