SEATTLE — Amazon has introduced a new smartphone that seeks to help consumers locate and purchase products and services from the nation’s largest e-commerce company.
The Fire phone comes with audio and object recognition technology, known as Firefly, to guide users to Amazon’s stores. Just snap a photo of a book or listen to a song, for instance, and Firefly will present more information and a way to buy it.
The new device fits with Amazon’s broader aim to create a more efficient shopping experience while steering more consumers to its retail products.
“It goes back to the mission of Amazon, which is to sell you stuff,” said Ramon Llamas of the research firm IDC. “It reduces the number of steps it takes to buy things on the phone.”
Fire also has the ability to render 3-D images on its 4.7-inch screen. The image shifts based on the angle you’re viewing it. Four infrared cameras on the front are used to tell where the viewer’s head is.
The device also comes with earbuds designed to be tangle-free.
Beyond that, the Fire phone doesn’t differ much from other smartphones on the market. The screen is smaller than leading Android phones. Although CEO Jeff Bezos calls the Fire’s size ideal for one-handed use, many consumers have turned to bigger phones to watch video and consume other content.
Persuading consumers to buy the Fire over an iPhone or Samsung phone will be tough, analysts say, particularly because Amazon isn’t offering price breaks the way it has with Kindle tablets. And sophisticated technology such as 3-D will appeal primarily to early adopters of technology.
“The technology’s cool, but consumers don’t buy technology,” said Julie Ask, an analyst at Forrester Research. “We buy solutions. We buy services. We pay for things that make our lives easier.”
Charles Golvin, Abelian Research founder, feels the phone will appeal to people who already use Amazon services heavily. “Any loyalist of iPhones or Google is going to have to judge whether there’s enough value in what Amazon is offering with Fire to make the transition,” he said.
Amazon could potentially succeed even if it doesn’t steal market share from the top phone makers.
Michael Scanlon, managing director with John Hancock Asset Management, said success or failure will be measured by whether Amazon can increase loyalty among its Amazon Prime members and get them to boost purchases.
Amazon is giving Fire owners a free year of membership, which normally costs $99. Prime offers free two-day shipping, encouraging impulse purchases. It also offers free access to some movies, TV shows, music and books and could encourage consumers to buy additional content, once they are used to the offerings.
At a glance
Fire offers ‘dynamic perspective’
Here are some details on the new Fire phone:
With a new Firefly feature, snap a photo of a book, and it’ll show you where to buy it. Listen to a song playing in the background, and it’ll direct you to that tune on Amazon. It can even direct you to knowledge, such as pulling up a Wikipedia entry on a painting you snapped. The feature also will let you snap bar codes, email addresses, phone numbers and more.
You can rotate the phone and get a different view depending on your angle of vision. CEO Jeff Bezos calls this “dynamic perspective” and said the phone is basically redrawing the image 60 times per second. To make that happen, the phone has four front-facing infrared cameras to tell where your head is, even if your fingers happen to cover two of them.
Beyond the four infrared cameras, there’s a regular, 2-megapixel camera on the front for selfies and a 13-megapixel camera on the back. That’s standard for phones these days. The rear camera has image stabilization to counteract shaking as people take shots, something available in other phones, as well. Amazon is offering unlimited free storage of photos taken with the Fire on its Cloud Drive service.
At 4.7-inches, as measured diagonally, the screen is smaller than the leading Android phone, but larger than Apple’s iPhone. Bezos calls the Fire’s screen ideal for one-handed use. The phone will come with earbuds that have flat cords and magnets to clasp them together, so tangled cords will be history. There’s an auto-scroll feature that lets you scroll down website articles or books by tilting the phone.