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For Amazon, a company whose previous devices have had innovative pricing plans that often involved selling devices at cost, the Fire phone’s uninspired price tag is a surprising disappointment. The world needed a great, cheap smartphone. With its huge reach, obsessive dedication to customer service, and a willingness to forgo immediate profits, Amazon seems uniquely capable of delivering such a device.
But instead of a cheap phone, Amazon delivered a device packed with many high-end, whiz-bang features. Some of those features may be attractive to people who already love Amazon, but for people who aren’t looking to be hooked so intimately into Amazon’s brain, it’s hard to see what this phone offers over the iPhone, the Samsung Galaxy or any other top-of-the-line smartphone on the market today.
Amazon’s Fire phone has several novel features. Among them is an image-recognition system, Firefly, that will let you identify any book, movie, phone number or other object you point at your phone. Firefly is the heart of the phone’s connection to Amazon’s shopping engine. Aim the device at anything around your house, like a bag of cat litter or a tube of toothpaste, and the phone instantly recognizes it and gives you an option to buy the item and have it delivered immediately. During a short demonstration of the phone, which is available for order now and will ship on July 25, I found that feature to be eerily accurate. It flawlessly recognized pretty much everything I pointed to, offering me a way to buy something on the fly, from Amazon.
Amazon has taken a somewhat surprising, more conservative path, hoping its unique features, a 3D interface, Prime media, free unlimited cloud storage, and Firefly product-recognition software, will sell enough Fire Phones on their own. This may prove to be a better strategy in the long run- pushing the Amazon platform as an equal to Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, instead of trying to be a cheap player in an industry that’s already getting commoditized on the low end. But it’s perhaps a tougher sell today than if this intriguing new phone were also competitive on price.