SEATTLE — Given the cutthroat competition and Amazon.com's status as a smartphone latecomer, CEO Jeff Bezos almost had to announce something different with the Fire Phone unveiled Wednesday. Sure we'd all be paying attention anyway—Amazon is one of those companies, after all. But as a newbie to the market, Amazon's approach to hardware had to make something of a statement and so did the way in which Amazon would deliver and price the phone.
Amazon made a statement all right, but whether consumers buy in remains to be seen. But Bezos indeed introduced a phone with what appears to be some very cool new features. Start with something called Firefly, a way to instantly recognize "more than one hundred million items—books, CDs, phone numbers, music, artwork, even the precise scenes within a TV show or movie that it detects. You can summon the feature through a dedicated button on the side.
To be sure, it's a potentially seductive way to get you to buy more stuff through Amazon, and that is after all what Bezos has always been about.
Among its features: Firefly can instantly use the song it recognizes to seed a custom radio show in iHeart Radio. Amazon is making a Firefly developer kit available to developers. The Vicino wine service can let you instantly scan a wine label, for example, to ID wines.
As had been long rumored, Bezos also showed off an eye-tracking 3D technology it calls Dynamic Perspective, made possible by knowing where the user's head is at all times." The phone includes four corner cameras, each with built-in infrared technology.
Earlier efforts to bring 3D to phones have gone nowhere—just ask LG and HTC phones how many 3D phones they were able to sell. And 3D TVs have been a bust too.
Amazon's approach comes across as less gimmicky, though we have to see how it works in practice. Dynamic Perspective lets you tilt to change, well, the perspective, of what you see. It's applicable to games. You can tilt the screen to auto-scroll (at varying speeds depending on the angle of the tilt) through newspaper article or a Kindle book. The technology also applies to how you view the lockscreen.
Amazon says the phone includes dozens of small touches.
One feature worth cheering is unlimited cloud storage for your photos.
And Amazon smartly includes the free live Mayday 24 by 7 tech support service on the phone, the potentially disruptive tech support feature that debuted on the Kindle Fire HDX last fall.
AT&T will be the exclusive wireless provider on the phone. That's good for the carrier but no so good for consumers who want a choice of carriers. I'm not sure how long Amazon's exclusive arrangement with AT&T will last, but if the phone catches on I would imagine it's only a matter of time before Amazon welcomes other wireless partners.
The phone arrives July 25, though you can start preordering it today. It will cost $199 with a two year contract, and comes with 12 months of free Amazon Prime service. It's unclear if streaming Prime movies and data will count against your AT&T data bucket.