Alexa lives on iOS and Android already, but behind a veil of taps, buried within the Amazon app. Even a recent hands-free smartphone integration, in the HTC U11, provides a neutered experience.
“Alexa is never going to achieve true first-party status and integration on a third-party smartphone,” says Jan Dawson, founder of Jackdaw Research. Alexa’s blindness to what you do away from home, then, makes it as useful in the long term as a cookbook that's never heard of protein.
“For them it’s a traffic game,” says Michael Face mire, mobile analyst with Forrester research. Thousands of recordings of people setting kitchen timers won’t cut it.
Especially if, like Amazon did with the Fire Phone in 2014, you felt compelled to pack in parallax whistles and bells on the software side. Amazon failed spectacularly at selling an overstuffed, overpriced, 3-D-for-some-reason smartphone.
Make a pretty good product at a compelling price, give it a marquee banner ad on the homepage, and watch the sales roll in. It doesn’t take a Spielberg imagination to picture it: A $99 AmazonBasics phone–the “Fire Phone” branding is still toxic at this point anyway–preferably running stock Android with a thick Alexa patina, but all Google services intact.
Better still, make it available only for Amazon Prime members, or at least give them a steep discount. Analysts say that creating a smartphone today would facilitate the growth of its Amazon Alexa services.
Just months after it was rolled out, the company admitted to taking a $170 million hit in its earnings because of the Fire phone and related supplier costs. It was also left with $83 million worth of unsold phones after it failed to take off, Fortune wrote at the time.
Last July, industry analysts began to speculate that Amazon could be developing smartphones once more after it dropped a hint in an earnings release. “We suspect, though this is admittedly speculation, that Amazon will have to re-enter the phone market either directly or indirectly in order to drive Alexa adoption,” Benjamin Chapter, a technology analyst at Macquarie wrote in a note to clients at the time.
“We don't see how Alexa can evolve to its fullest potential without being available prominently on the main device that so many people carry everywhere, the smartphone. July 28 Update: The Amazon Fire Phone release date has come and gone, so if you're a US citizen you can up and buy the handset right now.
Be sure to check out Page 2 for an Amazon Fire Phone vs iPhone 5S vs Samsung Galaxy S5 vs LG G3 showdown to see which handset is right for you. Those features are Dynamic Perspective and Firefly, which we break down further below, plus plenty of details on everything else the Amazon phone has to offer.
Is Amazon simply trying to sell you more stuff, or looking like it legitimately wants to succeed in the smartphone space? As an added bonus, customers who buy the Fire phone are being treated to 12 months of Prime membership free, but the offer is only running for a limited time.
We're still lacking early sales figures, but don't expect Amazon to panic if its first phone turns out to be a flop. CEO Jeff Bezos told The New York Times : “We have a long history of getting started and being patient.
Gorilla Glass 3 is slathered on the front and back, the buttons are made of aluminum and stainless steel details and a rubberized polyurethane grip make for a chic profile. On the inside, the Fire Phone features a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 2.2GHz processor, Arena 330 graphics and 2 GB of RAM.
Dolby Digital Plus surround sound speakers crank out the Fire Phone's audio. We suspect the device is going to need a lot of juice to run its 3D features, and Amazon only managed to put a 2,400mAh battery in to fuel the Fire.
“In the week following the announcement of the device, the App Store received more app submissions than any other weeks since it opened in 2011,” the company said in a press release, noting developers are taking advantage of the Dynamic Perspective SDK and Firefly SDK in their apps. Companies like eBay, Groupon, Kick, Sega, Trove, TV Guide, the Wall Street Journal and WhatsApp are already using Dynamic Perspective and Firefly, Amazon said.
Other apps and games that will be available on the Amazon phone at launch include Airbnb, Angry Birds Epic, Badlands, Cut the Rope 2, FOX Sports Go, The Room Two, Tourist, Where's My Water 2 and Wunderlist. The likes of Facebook, Instagram, Pandora, Pinterest, Spotify, Stub hub, Uber and WhatsApp are ready to rumble when the Fire Phone ships, too.
Saber's Edge and Tofu Fury both use Dynamic Perspective as part of their game play, letting users peek around corners and objects inside the game, control gameplay with head movements and tilt the device to change direction or their view. Microsoft made quite a big deal July 22 that Skype is headed to the Amazon Fire Phone.
The app will be available at launch and will adopt some Fire Phone's flare, complete with a 3D icon and notification badge. Thanks to a carousel widget, users can see chats and notifications at a glance, meaning they won't have to launch the Skype app to stay on top of their conversations.
The app uses the Amazon phone's tilt controls, letting users learn more about a song, find similar artists and access recently played tracks. Neatly, in maps, you can tilt the phone to see what's “tucked” information that lives on another layer, like Yelp ratings and reviews, and see under and around edges.
You can also auto-scroll through an article, a web browser or e-books, and tilting in Amazon Music reveals song lyrics. And Dynamic Perspective seems acutely tuned to games, making the images you see on screen pop out and forcing you to maneuver around them just by moving your head.
Dynamic Perspective is good at recognizing what's a human head and what's not, and there will even be an SDK for the feature so app developers can 3D-ify their games and offerings. Bezos explained onstage in Seattle that in the early days of the Fire Phone, Amazon went so far as to make its own headset to emulate 3D effects.
Bezos and Co. seem very keen to make the Fire Phone as user-friendly as possible, probably hoping to keep their customer satisfaction rankings cozy in their No. Following in line with the Kindle tablets, the phone features a dedicated Mayday button to connect to customer support.
Taking advantage of Amazon's digital content library, the Fire provides “instant access” to over 33 million songs, apps, games, movies, TV shows, books, audiobooks and magazines. Prime members will get unlimited streaming access to movies and TV episodes at no extra chard.
The same sort of deal applies to Kindle Owners' Lending Library and Prime Music members. Third-party apps can come up with their own uses; USA Today flashed headlines that are relevant to a user while Zillow popped up property information based on location.
The Music app features a “three-panel design,” with the left for navigation, the center for various controls and the right with lyrics. The idea is to be able to send an email, make a call, save a contact or go to a website without having to type it all into your phone.
Users can pull up info on items like books or a painting, potentially making it a handy information tool. Users can then read product details for these items, add them to their Wish List, and order them on Amazon .com.
Amazon is releasing an SDK for the feature, meaning third-party developers can take advantage of its item-recognition abilities in their apps, too. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos presents the Fire Phone at a major media event in June 2014 in Seattle.
David Ryder/Getty Images There are times when being the first person with a new gadget will elicit cheers and envy -- like outside New York's Fifth Avenue Apple Store, surrounded by applauding salespeople, curious fans and gawking media. Marlene Solomon learned first-hand the hazards of being an early adopter when she jumped at the chance to buy Amazon's first-ever smartphone a year ago.
Her excitement quickly turned to frustration after she realized the phone didn't have many of her favorite apps -- including Google Maps and Starbucks -- and she was annoyed at how difficult it was to import her Apple iTunes library. “It's the one time being a first adopter really kicked me in the butt,” said Solomon, 45, a marketing specialist for an automotive lubricants company who lives northwest of Houston.
It's a far cry from a year ago, when CEO Jeff Bezos took the stage at an event, held in Amazon's hometown of Seattle, that was electrified by the excitement of the super fans the company had invited to sit alongside industry and media folks. There are a handful of reasons the Fire Phone flopped, but its starting price proved a major snag and may have turned off many potential customers.
Consumers and analysts were expecting Amazon to follow its familiar playbook of offering a cheap, but good-enough product that could undercut other devices already on the market. That strategy proved a success for Amazon in tablets, as its inexpensive plastic-and-glass Fire devices (originally the Kindle Fire) offered a cheap alternative to Apple's iPad and helped Amazon become a major player in that market four years ago.
“That soured a lot of people,” IDC analyst Ramon Llamas said of the initial price. Two of the Fire Phone's differentiating features were 3D graphics, accomplished with the help of four front-facing cameras, and Firefly, a function that allowed people to scan and identify thousands of items, including products, songs and bar codes.
Firefly, meanwhile, was seen by many as a cynical attempt by Amazon to get Fire Phone users to buy more goods from the e-retailer. But if that was the intent of Firefly, it didn't work, since people tend to browse for products on their phones but typically complete purchases on a laptop or personal computer.
Amazon's Fire tablets have run off a heavily customized version of the Android operating system software, which meant they didn't have access to key Google apps like Maps or Gmail. By not embracing the Google-approved version of Android -- which is what Samsung, HTC and most other smartphone makers use -- it offered a third option it called Fire OS.
Having sufficient market share is critical because it spurs developers to build apps and games directly for your platform. David Limp, Amazon's senior vice president of devices, said in an interview a year ago that he hoped to convince developers to come aboard by making its Fire OS a place where they could generate more money from their work.
While Amazon was marketing the Fire Phone to all of its Prime customers, the reality was it could only sell the device to anyone willing to sign up with AT&T. That's because Amazon struck a deal with the carrier in exchange for marketing and retail support -- a move commonly made by lower-profile vendors looking for assistance in building awareness.
AT&T worked to optimize the Fire Phone's features to better run on its cellular network, and promised Amazon the “flagship” spot for the 2014 fall season. Ralph de la Vega, then CEO of AT&T's mobility division, came on stage with Bezos to praise the device: “This is an amazing, breakthrough innovation,” he said.
Facebook attempted to dominate smartphones with its own user interface that wrapped around Android, but it too met with a similar cold reception. Amazon has long shown a willingness to spend in search of new growth opportunities, from streaming TV shows to delivery drones to cloud-computing centers.
But, the company now is signaling to Wall Street that it will work on cutting back its heavy spending. In this scenario, it's not a stretch to imagine that the Fire Phone -- one of the company's biggest flops in years -- won't return.