Three months after it was announced for the US market, the Amazon Fire Phone is coming to the UK. The Android smartphone, the first built by the online retailer, will be available from the end of September. It will be exclusive to O2, free on contracts starting at £33 per month.
Fire Phone features
“We’ve packed a lot of value into our first smartphone and we are delighted to bring Fire to customers in the United Kingdom,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon Founder and CEO. “Fire is a premium phone with breakthrough technologies Dynamic Perspective and Firefly, access to exclusive features including live video tech support with the Mayday button and free unlimited cloud photo storage, plus a full year of Prime membership—for £0 on the £33 O2 Refresh tariff only from O2.”
Dynamic Perspective is new a concept that uses front mounted cameras in the four corners of the phone to change the perspective of the display as you move it. It’s a 3D-like effect that adds depth to the screen—enabling you to ‘look into’ the device—with the result that you could peek around the corner within a game, or view map content that is just offscreen.
It requires direct support from developers, though, and without it could be seen as little more than a gimmick.
More usefully, Dynamic Perspective supports gestures and hands-free controls by tracking the way you’re holding the device, and how you move your head. It’s a more refined version of the gestures that formed a high-profile but largely unsuccessful part of the Samsung Galaxy S4.
Firefly is the crux of the device. It’s a search tool that combines image, text and audio recognition to link items in the physical world to their equivalent product on the Amazon store.
Firefly recognises over 90 million items, including phone numbers and email addresses, artwork, songs and TV shows, and more than 55 million products from books to groceries.
If you’re a heavy Amazon user, Firefly is your perfect service. Combined with a free Amazon Prime subscription (free in the UK for Fire Phone buyers until the end of the year) it could help ensure Amazon is the first—and sometimes only—store you buy from.
Fire Phone flop
The UK announcement comes amid reports that the phone’s sales have got off to a decidedly slow start in the US, with one estimate putting sales as low as 35,000. In the two months since it has been on sale the phone’s price has been slashed first from $199 on contract to $99, and now to 99 cents.
The price drop shouldn’t automatically be seen as a sign of failure. The price was high at launch, with a markedly different approach to that which Amazon took with the popular Kindle Fire tablets.
Those devices were essentially loss leaders, with the low prices being made up for through sales of Amazon’s digital content. In turn the low price made the compromises of the device—chiefly a forked version of Android with a fully customised (and often difficult to use interface), and fewer apps—worthwhile.
That is likely the same position that the Fire Phone will end up in. Amazon may also need to eventually expand its strategy away from targeting heavy Amazon users at the expense of every other part of the market.
Either way, Amazon is certainly in the mobile game for the long haul.