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Mobile Communications

Amazon Fire Phone Won't Light Up a Tired Market

In psychology, ‘the seven-year itch’ refers to the notion that after seven years of marriage, couples’ relationships often decline. The history of mobile phones appears to have a similar cadence with major events occurring every seven or eight years to rock incumbents and their happy relationship with buyers. The BlackBerry was launched in 1999. The iPhone came in 2007 and the first Android phones appeared in the same year. So you might think that, seven years on, the scene is set for the Amazon Fire to come along and create a new wave. Even before having set eyes on the device, I don’t think it will.

Let’s begin with the positive aspects though. It’s good that Amazon is entering yet another space because in almost every market it enters, it differentiates and brings zest and fresh thinking. I’ve said before that Jeff Bezos is the Willy Wonka of technology. More than anybody since Steve Jobs, he brings that close-to-unhinged vision and passion for doing things in a better way.

Amazon Fire is differentiated in one major way: it has a 3D screen. It’s just about unique in the smartphone space (Nintendo of course has a very annoying 3D screen on the 3DS pocket games machine) but is it a selling point? I doubt it because phone screens are too small for the extra dimension to have much effect on the viewing experience.

As for the other promised USP — the ability to train the viewfinder on an item then buy it through Amazon — this really isn’t new and it’s more of a hot-key for Amazon’s benefit.

The Fire is not just short of a compelling reason for buyers to jump, it also has a major credibility problem because it lacks the apps base of iOS or Android. That’s because although the platform is a variant of Android, it is such a sharp turn away that Google won’t let Amazon access the wealth of apps that is the Play store.

New entrants tend to dismiss the notion that having an enormous appstore is important. They will do anything to get the big apps and then point to the number of low-selling apps out there and say it’s not important to have them.

But in reality, having first-class apps and breadth is critical. Only the two big smartphone camps have achieved this and the biggest reason sales of Windows Phone still lag is that it hasn’t got the apps of the others. And even the apps that have ported are often second-rate and don’t get the updates, attention and love of their equivalents on the Apple and Google. Lack of apps deters buyers and even when they switch they will often return purchases because, no matter how fine the user interface, the holistic user experience is destroyed when the apps aren’t there or aren’t good enough. Most smartphone users want the same apps as their friends and peers and nobody likes being left out of the party. Also, the notion, espoused by Microsoft and others, that developers want an extra target platform is dubious at best. Call me cynical but it seems to me that most app developers follow the money.

Short of apps and with not much in the way of differentiation, the Fire is likely to be dead in the water because nobody switches platforms for the heck of it. It’s been too long since the last great thing in smartphones but it will probably be down to Apple or somebody in the Android world to bring it.

 

Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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