Amazon unveils the "Fire Phone"

Amazon unveils the "Fire Phone"

Amazon has unveiled its long-awaited smartphone - The Fire Phone -containing an in-built Kindle store. The development has been described as "a further means of locking consumers into the Amazon ecosystem".

The device, currently only available in the US on pre-order, is priced at: $199 or $27 a month for the 32GB version, including 12 months free Amazon Prime, or $299 for the 64GB model, exclusively through the American network provider AT&T. It ships on 25th July.

At a live presentation to select journalists and guests in Seattle, the home of Amazon's headquarters yesterday (18th June), the company's founder and c.e.o Jeff Bezos said that "patience, persistence, and obsessive attention to detail” were the keys to Amazon's success.

He unveiled the 4.7 inches long Fire Phone, which has a 13 MP camera competitive with the Samsung S5 and iPhone 5S phones and offers 3D effects and gesture controls.

It does this through four infrared cameras, which allows users  to change an image's perspective by moving their head. The owner can also scroll through a webpage or bring up menus by tilting the smartphone in their hand.

The phone also comes with Amazon's content eco-system in built, allowing users to access the Kindle e-book store, Audible, the Kindle Lending Library through Prime membership and even swap "seamlessly" between Audible and reading through "immersion reading", or Wispersync for voice. Amazon Music will also be inbuilt on the device, along with 200,000 videos including exclusives and Bezos said Fire TV would be available on the device "as soon as possible".

One of the most striking new features of the phone which may cause alarm to bookshops is the Firefly function, which allows phone owners to use the in built camera to recognise texts, images and sounds in the vicinity such as a book, film or CD, and link to the Amazon store for customers to buy it directly.

The "image recognition technology" pulls up information on the product through Amazon's database which links to the Amazon store.  It can work for physical products such as art, but it can also recognise songs on the radio or  programmes on TV. Bezos showed a dedicated Firefly button on the Fire Phone and said that the database had the ability to recognise "hundreds of millions" of items.  

The phone will also have "tilt controls" for newspaper articles or books, allowing e-books to automatically scroll at a set speed down the screen. Users would touch the screen to stop the scroll or lift to continue reading. Small tilts would make e-books scroll slowly while more dramatic angles of tilting would make the title scroll faster, for example.  

In reference to the level of speculation around the unveiling of the product, Bezos said it made sense for people to ask if Amazon was building a phone. He added: "But we internally asked a different question: 'How would it be different? Can we build a better phone for our most engaged customers?'"

Bezos added: "I think the most important thing we've done over the last 20 years is earn trust with customers. We've worked hard to do that."

Douglas McCabe, an analyst at Enders, said: “You can see the retail strategy behind the launch is very straightforward. It is a further means of locking consumers into the Amazon ecosystem and making more purchases. Clearly more and more consumers are on their smartphones all the time. As those volumes have increased, it has made it inevitable that Amazon would go down this route. 

“It doesn’t feel to us like it is a game changer in terms of specification and functionality - it looks like a good competitive product but the reality is the majority of people already have a smartphone. Amazon is trying to position it as a product people would swap to from the much-loved phones they already own, which is a tall order. 

“I think strategically it makes sense from the perspective of selling products. From that perspective, the real loyalist people who buy everything from Amazon will swap maybe. But in the end in makes more sense from a supply perspective."

“As for reading, I think there is a certain type of consumer who hops on a train for 10 minutes and might want to read on their phone, but for longer sitting reading, people prefer larger screens.”