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BW Businessworld

The Amazon Skipper's Companion

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After years of having rumoured it to death, Amazon finally launched its own smartphone for real. There’s no word on when, or if the Fire phone will come to India (all the services involved aren’t open to India), but even so it’s still intriguing on many fronts.

Interestingly, Amazon has boldly managed to come up with a smartphone so tightly integrated with its core business — selling products through online store. Whatever is on the smartphone is meant to wrap the user into Amazon’s ecosystem, and make buying the next product a little touch away at all times. That’s what is at the heart of the Kindle and the Kindle Fire tablet. Amazon has no illusions about that at all, and is aiming the Fire smartphone at existing, and loyal customers who are intensely invested in the Amazon world begin with. It’s a gamble because they take on the resource a hungry job of creating and maintaining the new smartphone business, but can’t expect kind of sales that other phones get — not until the Fire can do everything other phones can. At the same time, the Fire phone is priced on par with the world’s top-end phones.

Those who buy the Fire will get a year of Amazon Prime membership free, even when they are already members,  and why not; it only facilitates shopping.

But, all that is interesting the technology that differentiates the Fire from the everyday phones in their race for specs. The Fire’s own specs are modest, but probably enough for now. It has a 4.7-inch 720p display with a pixel density of 315ppi, and is powered by a 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor, and an Adreno 330 GPU and 2GB of RAM. There are two variants — 32GB and 64GB. The battery is a 2,400mAh, and only after reviewers see, it can be said that it’s enough for all the phone does. Surprisingly, the screen isn’t sporting the latest specs but it’s 590 nits and said to be bright enough to be sunlight friendly. It runs on a variant of Android, but doesn’t include the usual Android and Google features, you’d get otherwise. What you do get is a few fascinating technology implementations. The Fire has four front cameras that track the position of the user’s head, multiple times, fast. This is done for the phone’s 3D Dynamic Perspective, which allows the user to see an image from different perspectives, hiding and revealing aspects. As you move your head in relation to the phone’s display, or if you tilt the phone, you can scroll through different parts of the screen, including reading a book. But, it’s only when apps begin to take advantage of this feature that it will really begin to be useful. Ask the same, it has implications for more gesture-based navigation on a phone.

There is also a 13 megapixel camera on the phone, which recognises over a million objects like games, DVDs, TV shows, books and products in every category that Amazon is in. Capable of producing sharp images, it lets you scan and read text, and QR codes making it easier than ever to quickly buy something you see. The feature is called Firefly. The images head to Amazon’s cloud where they sit for free, except that people are already raising concerns about the invasion of privacy, this would cause resulting in many ads on objects that you click. The camera can read a phone number or address or a bar code. Later, translation will be added to it. The 13MP camera has a dedicated shutter button on the phone for instant access.

The Fire being tied tightly into the Amazon store, while having only 240,000 apps, apart from that may prevent it from becoming a huge success like Apple’s and Samsung’s phones. But, if Amazon does something to bring in the most used apps and a plethora of Android apps that could change the game, at least in places where Amazon’s services are available in full, for music, movies and TV. Then, there’s enough meat in there for a phone from Amazon to become a serious contender some day, especially, if Jeff Bezos and his team go about it slowly and steadily. 

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 14-07-2014)

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