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Amazon Fire: A New Smartphone Design Paradigm?

Comments(1)Filed under: semiconductors, Jeff Bezos, Amazon Prime, system design, Amazon Fire, system design enablement, smartphones

The release of the Amazon Fire last week is more than just a new smartphone on the marketplace and a new and intriguing initiative from Jeff Bezos and Co. It's a paradigm shift in mobile-phone design.

Mainstream pundits had counseled Amazon engineers to design a low-cost smartphone to compete with Apple and Samsung. They're in the business of punditry, not in the business of leading-edge design, so fortunately Bezos and his engineers ignored that advice. In fact, in an interview with the New York Times, Bezos recalled the Amazon design mantra: 

"...it can't just be different. It has to be different constrained by customers caring. It's easy to be different if you don't constrain it that way. But it has to be useful."

So Amazon took a page out of server design, which has been dominated by large vertically integrated systems companies that no longer buy IBM, Oracle, or HP off the shelf but design their own for their own needs--be it high-throughput transactional business systems or servers that radically minimize power consumption. They designed an application-specific smartphone. Consider the Amazon Fire's specs:


Size 5.5" x 2.6" x 0.35" (139.2mm x 66.5mm x 8.9mm)
Weight 5.64 ounces (160 grams)
Processor 2.2GHz Quad-core Snapdragon 800 CPU, with Adreno 330 GPU and 2GB of RAM
Display 4.7" HD LCD display, with 1280 x 720 resolution at 315 ppi, 590 cd/m2 brightness (typical), 1000:1 contrast ratio (typical)
Cameras 13MP rear-facing camera, multi-frame HDR, auto focus, optical image stabilization, f/2.0 5-element wide aperture lens, LED flash; 2.1MP front-facing camera
Storage 32GB or 64GB
Battery Battery size: 2400mAh. Talk time: up to 22 hours; standby time: up to 285 hours. Video playback: up to 11 hours; audio playback: up to 65 hours
Sensors Dynamic Perspective sensor system with invisible infrared illumination, gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer, barometer, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor


The idea is not just to create a great smartphone (Bezos joked that it also has to make phone calls) but to serve as a portal into Amazon, whether it's the Amazon Prime video and audio services or the great Amazon virtual storefront. That's where the sensors and the 3D capabilities come into play.

Jeff Bier, founder of the Embedded Vision Alliance, told me:

"I find it interesting that Amazon chose vision as the key technology that differentiates their phone.  And I find it interesting that they're using vision in a different way to enhance the user interface."

Arguably, it's not the first application-specific smartphone. Facebook famously tried this with little success. Surely it wasn't the hardware design, because the eminently capable HTC was behind it. It could have been a too-limited customer base (even though hundreds of millions of people use Facebook). Or it could have been that consumers view the Facebook /social experience as just a subset of the smartphone experience.

That could be a factor in the adoption of the Amazon Fire, but purchasing and product search and comparison strike me as much more universal, daily experiences for the average user. We'll see.

In the meantime, it'll interesting to watch how the Amazon Fire performs after it hits the market next month. (Remember, when the Kindle came out, there was much poo-poohing as well).

And it'll be interesting longer term to see whether application-specific smartphones come to other major areas (automotive perhaps?). What do you think?

Brian Fuller 

Related stores:

-- Amazon Prime Air and the Eeyore Backlash



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