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Can Amazon set the smartphone market on Fire?

Friday, June 20th 2014 by Cable.co.uk
Can Amazon set the smartphone market on Fire?
Will Amazon's Fire Phone ignite the mobile market, or is it more of a damp squib?

After allowing the hype to build up for a period of months, Amazon finally announced a smartphone this week. The Fire Phone features advanced 3D effects, tilt controls and an app that scans objects in order to redirect the user to an Amazon purchase page.

This is more than most of today's flagship devices bring to the table, so Amazon can't be accused of not doing its utmost to get tongues wagging. But what are the Fire Phone's chances of success? Will its innovations ignite the mobile market, at a time that sales growth is waning and the app world is maturing? Or is Amazon's debut handset more of a damp squib?

It's curious that it's taken the company this long to enter the smartphone space. Back in 2011, the Kindle Fire was one of the first successful seven-inch Android tablets and felt like a logical continuation of Amazon's existing ebook reader line. The retailer was in many ways primed for a push into cellular devices, yet it took three years for the Fire Phone to materialise.

The handset's 3D effects are, of course, fascinating. But in order to revolutionise the smartphone experience, they'll need to be adopted by app developers. Amazon might struggle to encourage this, because there's not much return on investment in developing apps that are exclusive to a single smartphone. 

One only needs look at Windows Phone's limited app store for evidence of this. Developers don't have much incentive to develop for a third operating system after iOS and Android, so why should they make apps that only work properly on one device?

The Fire Phone's tilt controls have also been dismissed by some pundits. Speaking to the BBC, International Data Corporation Analyst Francisco Jeronimo pointed out that Samsung had tried to introduce similar functionality to its Galaxy smartphone range, without success.

"Unless the experience is extraordinary it can come across as a gimmick," he commented. "I'd be surprised if Amazon has succeeded when Samsung hasn't, but I'll need to try it."

As for the object-scanning app, called FireFly, it's hard not to be a little cynical. There are various apps out there that do the same things, such as Shazam, only they don't take the user to an Amazon store page to complete a purchase. It's no secret, then, that FireFly's first and foremost raison d'etre is to draw more consumers into the Amazon ecosystem and parting with their cash.

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