Over 60,000 people, including Amazon customers, applied to attend the Amazon launch event today. Just after 1:30 p.m. Eastern, CEO Jeff Bezos took the stage. He began by explaining that Amazon Prime has been growing steadily since it launched, shooting up in 2011:
About twenty minutes into the event, Bezos asked the all-important question:
As it turns out, yes! To the surprise of, well, no one, Amazon has created a phone. It is called the "Fire Phone."
The Fire Phone has a Gorilla Glass 3 screen with a rubber frame. The screen is 4.7 inches with a 590 nits screen, making it ideal for outdoor use, and a direct competitor for Samsung Tab S. The processor is 2.2 GHz, quad-core with 2 GB of RAM. As expected, the cameras pack a punch. There is a 13 MP camera, with optical image stabilization.
The first perk of Amazon affiliation: free unlimited storage for photos in Amazon Cloud Drive.
Amazon also put some curious thought into the sound. There are dual stereo speakers with dolby virtual surround, and tangle-free cables on the earbud headphones (which I’m pretty sure are made with magic.) The earbuds are magnetic, which seems to be the secret to their tangle-free promise.
Now, let’s talk cameras. We know that cameras were all the rage during the Amazon phone rumors. The phone has a shutter button on the side, so you can go straight to taking pictures instantly.
Because of Amazon’s relationship with the major video streamers, Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, and SportsCenter are all available within Fire Phone. MayDay, Amazon’s live video chat support service, will also be available.
Fire Phone will also have a new feature called FireFly. FireFly can detect phone numbers, movies, books, CDs, games, and food items by scanning them with your camera. After you scan the object, FireFly allows you to buy it and access it instantly. So, say you scan a CD (Bezos picked Marilyn), you can then access it within Prime Music or another music app. FireFly can also recognize art, pulling up the applicable Wikipedia article. (This is reminiscent of the SpotLight updates at WWDC.) Right now, FireFly can recognize over 100 million items.
FireFly can also tell if a phone number doesn’t exist. If there is an image of a phone number, and part of the number is unclear — say a digit could either be a 3 or an 8 — FireFly can determine that 3 would make the phone number invalid, while 8 makes it valid. Then, it will dial to the valid number for you. That’s a very smart feature. FireFly uses Amazon’s cloud to do all of this fancy wizardry.
Amazon will release a software development kit for third-party apps to build themselves into FireFly. MyFitnessPal is one of the first, which will automatically give nutritional information when a food product is scanned. FireFly also has its own dedicated button on the side of the phone. So, basically, FireFly is a purchasing and data processing super machine. It’s going to take impulse purchases to the next level.
The navigation is a standard app grid. There are tabs for Cloud and Device, which is nifty. I could see that organization being preferable to traditional folders. You can pin things like e-books and certain pages to the grid, sort of like bookmarking. By going through the home page carousel of apps, you get a small preview of the content within it. So, say you open emails, then you can see the most recent emails.
The music app (which Amazon has been pushing pretty hard) will be broken into three panels: two navigation levels and “delighter”, which can be information like lyrics. From within the calendar app, you can send a message if you are running late. In the settings, you can set the ringer to silent for set amounts of time, say one hour if you are in that meeting you were running late for.
The messaging feature doesn’t seem that thrilling, which is disappointing. I was hoping for something that would challenge iMessage in iOS 8 (which I think is pretty killer.)
Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T Mobility, took the stage to praise Fire Phone. Well, he should be praising it — AT&T does have the exclusive. He is especially fond of FireFly: “I was running around the office, FireFlying everything.”
Fire Phone is $199 with a two-year contract on AT&T. I would imagine it’s around $400 without a contract. This means the initial calculations of sales are off, as that assumed a $300 price. The phone comes with 12 months of Amazon Prime included. If you already have Prime, it will add a year to your existing Prime account. Prime is usually $99 a year, so, it’s kind of like the phone will only cost $100.
Preorders for the device start today. It will ship July 25th.