Amazon wants you to buy its first smartphone, the Fire, which it unveiled Wednesday. But it also wants you to use that phone to buy more stuff … from Amazon.
And one of the device’s most distinctive features is designed to make it as easy as possible do just that.
It’s called Firefly, and it contains image-, text- and audio-recognition technology to help you scan and identify books, songs, movies and other items. Amazon wants you to use Firefly so much that the feature has its own dedicated button on the side of the phone for one-stop shopping.
“The Firefly button lets you identify printed Web and email addresses, phone numbers, QR and bar codes, artwork, and over 100 million items, including songs, movies, TV shows, and products — and take action in seconds,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in announcing the phone, which will run Amazon’s Fire operating system.
For example, you could use the phone’s cameras and sensors to identify an exotic fruit or vegetable, figure out who sings a song on the radio or help send an e-mail to a new contact after scanning their business card.
But forget all that. Well, except for maybe the song. Once you’ve identified the tune, Amazon wants you to download it. From Amazon.
As with products like its Kindle e-readers, Kindle Fire tablets and Amazon Fire TV, the Fire Phone is designed to pull you into Amazon’s growing universe of products and services and then keep you there.
So with Firefly, the Amazon Music Store will pop up as the default source to buy that song. And that’s also where those QR and bar codes come in.
Firefly will make it even easier to pursue a habit that has proliferated in the smartphone age and driven brick-and-mortar stores crazy. A user will presumably be able to walk into a store, pick out a product they like, zap it with Firefly and, within a second or two, find out whether it’s available on Amazon for less money. (And then maybe even order it right there from their phone.)
According to Amazon, the Firefly feature will recognize 70 million products, 35 million songs, 245,000 movies and TV episodes, and 160 live TV channels.
That’s a lot of chances to spend money.
The Fire also boasts a 3-D screen. It ships July 25, although you can pre-order it now. The phone is available only on AT&T’s network.
If there’s one difference between the Firefly-loaded Fire Phone and other Amazon hardware, it’s the price. At $199 for a 32GB model and $299 for the 64GB — with an AT&T contract — its cost is comparable with that of other high-end smartphones.
By comparison, the Kindle Fire tablet debuted in 2011 at $199, a full $300 less than the cheapest iPad 2 at the time. The first Kindle e-reader debuted about $400 but quickly dropped in price. There are Kindles that can now be purchased for about $70.
Under Bezos, the company’s strategy has been to sell hardware for less than its competitors, sometimes even at a loss, to get customers using other Amazon products.
As such, customers who buy the Fire soon will get a free year’s subscription (normally $99) to Amazon Prime, which offers two-day shipping, free streaming on Prime Instant Video and access to the Kindle book-lending library.
Whether the Fire Phone will be an instant hit remains to be seen. Shoppers may be hesitant to buy a phone online if they can’t test it out in stores.
But if Amazon can carve out a decent piece of the smartphone market, which moved more than 1 billion phones last year, Firefly may help make sure those Amazon purchases just keep on coming.