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Catching Fire: What to expect from the Amazon phone

Susie Ochs | June 18, 2014
The market for Android phones is large and crowded, but Wednesday looks like it will finally be the day we welcome Amazon to the jungle.

Shaking up the sale

T-Mobile had another of its Uncarrier announcements planned, also for this Wednesday, and when Amazon announced its event the same day in Seattle, T-Mobile moved its shindig north from Los Angeles to Seattle so the press corps could more easily cover both. (So thoughtful!)

So how related will they be? Both companies like to make bold, splashy moves to shake up their industries and rattle competitors, from Amazon selling its hardware practically at cost to T-Mobile paying new customers' early termination fees and offering free international data roaming. I don't have a strong feeling that these two events were designed to complement each other, but I think that Amazon, being all about shopping, is going to try to surprise us with how people buy its new phone.

I absolutely love Roberto Baldwin's theory that Amazon would subsidize its phone's data plan, giving everyone some free data and then upselling them later, or letting you "earn" more data by being the best little Amazon shopper you can be. That's a great idea, especially since Amazon wants to encourage data-hungry activities like streaming tons of media bought from you-know-where.

Amazon also loves to give its customers choice--the company doesn't care if you buy shoes from Zappos or Amazon proper, after all. So perhaps Amazon will sell its phone unlocked, to use with the carrier of your choice, but at a price that's dangerously close to (or cheaper than) a carrier-subsidized phone. Maybe Amazon partners with Ting (for whom Amazon recently started processing payments) to offer several tiers of data, texts, and talk plans for a customizable, contract-free fit.

Family talk

Amazon's Kindle FreeTime Unlimited is a cool all-you-can-eat package for kids with a curated collection of age-appropriate apps, games, books, and media. Parents get very granular controls over how much kids can access and at what times of day, options that put iOS and stock Android's parental controls to shame. That along with the easy navigation and handy Mayday feature for getting live help make the Kindle Fire HDX probably the best tablet on the market to share with a family.

And that's a smart move--get 'em locked into the ecosystem while they're young, building a movie collection and a music library and a roster of favorite games and apps. I was always surprised there was no clear Android-powered answer to Apple's iPod touch, a phone-like form factor without phone service, just Wi-Fi communication and a way to buy and consume apps, movies, music, TV, and games.

Amazon could make its phone the iPod touch of the Android world, selling bundles for families that can work as phones or just as Wi-Fi handhelds a la the iPod touch. Parents can lock down which apps and contacts are allowed, like they can with phones like the Kurio, and then dole out add-ons like text messages, data, or even voice minutes as the child matures (or just as a bribe for good behavior).


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