Amazon fails to set world on Fire with first smartphone

Amazon failed to convince industry experts it can compete against Apple and Samsung in the smartphone space after it unveiled its first device--the Fire--on Wednesday.

On the surface, the smartphone has everything needed to compete with the best Apple and Samsung have to offer. It features a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, LTE connectivity, 13-megapixel camera, and a 'dynamic' 3D display the company said makes it easier to control and interact with the device.

Amazon also equipped the device with one-touch access to its established online shopping mall, music, and movie services through a button named Firefly. The feature utilises sensors to identify real-world items, and then link users to related Amazon content without typing in URLs.

While the feature list looks impressive, Bengt Nordström, CEO of consultancy Northstream, said leading smartphone vendors "are simply more technologically advanced and have much greater scale." Apple and Samsung "have an enormous war chest for R&D, supporting device launches and bringing in experience."

Nordström was also sceptical about Amazon's 3D display, noting that if the technology was "amazing" it would already feature in rival vendors' smartphones.

He added that Amazon "missed a trick" in terms of pricing. Amazon said a 32GB version of Fire will cost $199 (€146) with a two-year contract under an exclusive deal with U.S. operator AT&T. However, Nordström pointed out that consumers could have a 16GB version of Samsung's Galaxy S5 or Apple's iPhone 5S for the same money. "[P]rice point is one area in which they [Amazon] could have really differentiated themselves."

Amazon's content is one of the few areas Nordström believes offers the company an advantage over its established rivals, and he noted that the company has exploited this well with its Kindle tablet. He was less convinced by the Firefly button, though, noting it is "more interesting for Amazon" than consumers.

Industry commentators echoed Nordström's view.

IDC analyst Francisco Jeronimo told the BBC the Fire's gesture-based controls must offer an "extraordinary" experience to be perceived as anything other than a "gimmick", and noted similar functionality on Samsung's Galaxy smartphones are rarely used by consumers.

Christopher Mims wrote in a Wall Street Journal article that it is hard to persuade smartphone users to switch due to the hassle associated with changing to a different operating system, including potential loss of apps and media.

Amazon's Fire may use Android, but is excluded from accessing the Google Play app store which, in turn, means users won't have access to popular services including Snapchat and Uber in the near term, Mims added.

For more:
- see Amazon's Fire announcement
- read IDC's comments to the BBC
- see this Wall Street Journal article

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