The new Amazon Fire phone. A lot to love…if you’re Amazon.

Justin Daab

Fire PhoneSo, yesterday Amazon finally unveiled the phone everyone knew for months they were working on. Some interesting features. Some experimental features. Some soon-to-be ignored features. And one killer app.

So what’s Interesting?

It’s a phone. From Amazon.  I like Amazon. (Full disclosure: I own Amazon stock) And given the way they made low-end tablets interesting with Kindle Fire, I’m admittedly prone to be interested. But I have to say, the fact that this phone costs as much as an iPhone, in my humble opinion, is a mistake. I’m sure Amazon will justify the price by touting the “experimental” and “Soon-to-be-forgotten” features I’ll mention momentarily. They also say it includes a year’s Prime subscription. But I already have that and really, wouldn’t factor that into my price comparison calculus.


What’s experimental?

It has a head-tracking 3D interface. Interesting, sure, but I didn’t enjoy the faux parallax on my iPhone, so I cannot imagine I’d enjoy this. Thankfully, you can disable the feature, though Amazon thinks you are doing yourself a disservice if you do. Not having actually used it, my reaction is, as the kids say, “meh.” It’s a gimmick waiting for a killer app. As a developer, there is zero chance I am spending time on this feature over developing something I can leverage across all platforms. The final, albeit less-experimental feature was their porting of live, human support as seen in the Kindle Fire tablets, called Mayday. It’s not something I would use, but it’s nice if you need it. Though I am guessing there is a mismatch between the audience who wants an experimental 3D interface and one that needs tech support to take over their phone and show them how to sort their photos.



What’s soon-to-be-forgotten?

Well there are two interface “upgrades” that Amazon has implemented that I just don’t buy into. The first is called tilt to scroll. And, it seems to work as advertised. You tilt the phone and the screen scrolls in the direction of the tilt. Theoretically this makes one-handed operation of the phone easier. But I don’t buy it. I have never had any issues scrolling with my thumb on the hand with which I am holding my phone. But I can easily imagine being frustrated by the unplanned scroll as my phone naturally changes angles in my hands as I maneuver. The other feature they are promoting is one where you flip the phone over sideways quickly to reveal a sidebar of current info (kind of like Google Now, without the polished intelligence). Again, an arbitrary and unnecessary move that could have been replaced with a simple swipe from the side bezel. It’s just too inefficient to feel normal or useful.


What’s the killer app?

The Fire phone comes with a seemingly amazing consumption-promoting app called Firefly that is the “Shazam of buying-stuff.” Seriously. You point your Fire phone camera at nearly any package or playing piece of media and it will identify it and link you to all of the ways you can buy whatever it has identified from Amazon. “I love your shoes! Now, (click) they’re my shoes, tomorrow…shipped free. Yay, Amazon Prime!”

What’s my bottom line?

Amazon should absolutely sell its own phone. They’ve proven with the Kindle Fire that they can make competitive hardware with an interesting business model that provides subsidized hardware and drives internal sales. Just maybe not this phone. I simply think this phone tries to hard to be innovative in ways that are more odd than wow, and that led to an overpriced entry to the market. But stranger things have happened. It’s still good to see increased competition in the space.


Magnani is an experience design and strategy firm that crafts transformational digital experiences to delight users and deliver sustainable competitive market advantages for our clients.


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