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
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
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
Consider the Amazon
5.5" x 2.6" x
0.35" (139.2mm x 66.5mm x 8.9mm)
5.64 ounces (160 grams)
2.2GHz Quad-core Snapdragon 800
CPU, with Adreno 330 GPU and 2GB of RAM
4.7" HD LCD display, with
1280 x 720 resolution at 315 ppi, 590 cd/m2 brightness (typical), 1000:1
contrast ratio (typical)
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
32GB or 64GB
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
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
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?
Prime Air and the Eeyore Backlash