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Why Amazon's Fire Phone hasn't set the smartphone market ablaze

Susie Ochs | Aug. 22, 2014
Maybe Amazon should offer free puppies to app developers who can make Firefly and Dynamic Perspective must-haves instead of nice-to-haves.

The Kindle Fire HDX is a great tablet at a bargain price--the 7-inch version starts at $229, practically impulse-buy territory, especially since you don't need to pay for a service plan. To get the Fire Phone into more people's hands, Amazon should consider a price cut--pushing the free year of Prime and the extra built-in storage isn't enough. A phone will never be an impulse buy in the same way that a cheap tablet could be. But if you're trying to get people to switch, give them the lowest barrier to entry possible.

More apps
True, the first iPhone didn't launch with an App Store at all. We had web apps back in those olden days, and we liked it! (Editor's Note: We did not, actually.) But that was then, and this is now. The only mobile app store that Apple competed with seven years ago was BlackBerry's, and the iPhone was so radically different than the key-bedecked BlackBerry phones that it didn't seem like a direct comparison anyway.

Today, of course, unless the Fire Phone is your very first smartphone, you're probably switching from iOS or Android. And in the process, you're cutting yourself off from a good number of apps that those other platforms have. At this writing, Amazon's Appstore for Android claims to have 189,264 apps compatible with the Fire Phone, with 11,000 new ones added in the last 30 days. To compare, Windows Phone just passed 300,000, Apple claimed 1.2 million apps (which includes both iPhone and iPad) as of this June, and AppBrain counts more than 1.3 million Android apps in the Google Play Store.

While Amazon has a lot of the basics covered, the Fire Phone can't access the Google Play Store and doesn't come with familiar Google-made apps like Google Maps and Gmail, or big-name Microsoft apps like Office Mobile or OWA for reading my work's Office 365 email.

Choosing a phone in 2014 isn't just about which handset you like the best. You're buying into a whole ecosystem, and so far Amazon's is the most restricted.

Free puppies
No, just kidding. But that would be a fun add-on, right? Amazon wants its Fire Phone to be all about shopping, from using Dynamic Perspective gestures to whip through a carousel of products in the Shop Amazon, to queueing up real-world products to buy online with Firefly. Amazon wants its customers to think of their Fire Phones as mobile shopping devices, and I'm not sure that's enough reason to buy it just yet.

Apple didn't realize when it released the iPhone that someday we'd use it as a guitar tuner, bubble level, and blood pressure monitor. Similarly, Amazon isn't sure yet what kinds of cool things developers will do with the Firefly and Dynamic Perspective SDKs. So far some of the best bespoke Fire Phone apps are still about commerce: StubHub lets you search for concert tickets to see the artist you just ID'ed with Firefly, and Zillow lets you peek around zoomed-in photos with Dynamic Perspective's head-tracking technology.


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