Amazon is a huge brand name that people all across the world can recognize, whether it’s because of their huge selection of retail products sold online, their e-Reader line-up, their Fire tablets, or maybe because of the recent release of their inexpensive Fire TV. What most people probably don’t recognize them for is their attempt at entering the smartphone market with the Amazon Fire Phone earlier this year. At least not yet.
Amazon's Fire Phone was a flop - even their CEO, Jeff Bezos, has admitted that the Fire Phone was a “bold bet” that didn’t pay off. After all, the sales results of the Fire Phone ended up with a multimillion dollar write-off. However, also according to Bezos, such a significant loss doesn’t mean that they’re going to quit trying.
Whether Amazon’s Fire Phone would have been a success or a failure was largely up for debate even before the phone was made official. There were a lot of things going both for and against the device. Amazon focused in on the features of the phone, like adding the “Dynamic Perspective” sensor system through four front-facing cameras on the phone. The Fire Phone also features the Firefly button, which identifies and is able to take action on phone numbers, e-mail and web addresses, music, movies & TV, and “over 70 million products”. You also have access to Amazon’s Mayday customer service support, which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
The technical specs on the Fire Phone aren't too bad either. The Fire Phone has a 4.7-inch 1280 x 720 HD display, 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor and Adreno 330 GPU, 2GB of RAM, 32/64GB of internal storage, 13-megapixel rear-facing camera, 2.1-megapixel front-facing camera, and a 2400 mAh battery. Not the best of the best, but it’s still a decently specced device.
The Fire Phone’s biggest draw backs ultimately came down to three things: the Amazon App Store, price, and availability.
Use of the Amazon App Store was, at least to me, the biggest concern from the get-go. While the store works decently for Fire tablets, it doesn’t work so well for phones. The Amazon App Store not only omits Google Services, but a number of other popular applications as well. The reason it works so well for Amazon’s Fire tablets is that the Fire tablet is priced extremely competitively among a sea of tablets, and as a result isn’t necessarily expected to have all of the bells and whistles of “vanilla” Android. Many people also buy these tablets for simpler reasons such as reading e-Books, Amazon Prime Instant Video, Netflix, web browsing, games, and, of course, shopping on Amazon. You can pick up Amazon’s Fire HD 6 tablet for just $99 - that’s a good price for doing any of the above.
But most people expect to do more on their smartphone, like checking e-mail, using GPS, reading news, conducting business, social networking - the whole shebang. Although the Amazon Fire Phone runs on Android, it’s a forked version of Android, and it’s not the whole shebang in the end after all. If you’re lucky, you can find decent alternative applications for the ones that are missing. Often times, you won’t. In the end, it doesn’t really feel like you’re using Android at all.
Amazon probably could have made more off of the Fire Phone if it started off at the right price, but from the moment the Fire Phone was available for purchase the price was rather high considering what you were getting. The Fire Phone was $199 on contract, and $649 full-price. It was initially priced competitively with phones like the Apple iPhone 5s or the Samsung Galaxy S5. When it was clear that the Fire Phone was not as popular as Amazon hoped it would be, the price dropped to just $0.99 on contract and $449 full-price. Right now you can pick up the Fire Phone for $199 full-price, which ultimately trickles down to a $100 price tag as the phone includes a year of Amazon’s Prime service for free (normally $99).
Finally, you have the issue that the Fire Phone was only available on one major carrier here in the U.S., which was AT&T. While AT&T’s user base is the second largest in the country, that’s still cutting out the majority of potential customers in the U.S.
Still, after all of that, it seems that Amazon isn’t giving up hope after one rough start. According to an interview with Business Insider’s Henry Blodget where Bezos acknowledges the shortcomings of the Fire Phone, he indicates that there are plans to make future generations of the device. Bezos thinks that companies need to “embrace failure” in order to improve, and when asked when customers could expect a next generation device, Bezos says that it “would take many iterations, who knows? Ask me in some number of years.”
So maybe we won’t get another glimpse at the next generation Fire Phone next year, or even the year after - but perhaps the wait might be worth it. If nothing else, it’s admirable that Amazon recognizes where it fell short and plans to keep on chugging. The smartphone market is still hot and could always use some fresh new phones to keep it interesting. Amazon has the potential and the finances to make it happen, they just need to fix some really important aspects that make a smartphone worth using on a daily basis.