Shop in your pocket
Amazon is now a smartphone company but the new Fire Phone, announced last week, has very little to do with communications
The world’s largest online retailer is also one of the leading companies in cloud infrastructure and has made a compelling move into hardware with its Kindle devices that started with electronic book readers and now includes iPad-rivalling tablet computers. Last week Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos took to the stage for a 90-minute presentation during which he unveiled his company’s latest invention – a platform for collecting behavioural data and giving customers a hotline to the Amazon data centre. Oh, and it’s a phone, too.
On paper the Fire Phone sounds like any other cutting-edge smartphone – it has a 13MP camera that Bezos promised was better than the iPhone’s. It has a big touchscreen and an app store that Amazon runs itself with thousands of apps available for the Fire operating system. There is even Amazon’s own gimmick – a 3D viewing effect on the phone that one apparently has to see to understand.
The more interesting aspects of the Fire Phone are in Amazon’s additional software that make the new device a buying machine. What Bezos really announced last week was the most powerful online shopping mechanism the world has ever seen.
First up is Amazon’s Firefly technology that identifies just about anything in the world around you. Hold the Fire Phone up to a TV and it’ll identify the show or movie you’re watching. Aim it at a barcode and it’ll find the product. Turn it on while you’re listening to the radio and it’ll identify the song. Point the camera at a product on the shelf and Firefly will attempt to find it. The software even recognises telephone numbers and email addresses. Then hit the patented ‘1-Click’ ordering button and you’ve just bought whatever was found. Firefly is Amazon on steroids.
The other bit of wizardry is Amazon’s Mayday button. Push it any time of the day or night and within seconds you’ll be on a video call with an ‘Amazon expert’ who will answer any question you have.
When Amazon s ays ‘answer any question’, the company means it – Amazon experts have been asked to help customers beat levels of Angry Birds, to propose to fiancées, to settle arguments and to help with queries about its products. The kind of relationship the Mayday button is forming between the company and its customers is second to none.
Google gets a lot of f lack for collecting personal data and using it in advertising, but Amazon has taken this to a whole new level. The phone costs as much as an iPhone, is locked to the USA’s AT&T cellular network and will struggle to compete among more tech-savvy customers, but the machine behind it is testament to Bezos’s longterm thinking and puts Amazon aeons ahead of other online retailers.