Amazon has finally entered into the smartphone arena with a phone built off the Fire OS platform, the same mobile operating system that runs the Kindle Fire tablet. Details about this phone are available from AT&T, Amazon’s exclusive partner, and on Amazon’s own website. On paper, the specs sound very good, 2 GB of RAM, a 4.7 inch display, a 13 megapixel camera with a f/2.0 lens, stereo speakers, optical image stabilization and more. The services sound good, unlimited cloud storage space for your pictures, synchronicity with services Amazon offers over the cloud and more. There are some things I am not sure about, such as the aluminum buttons and the fact that Amazon is pushing their own OS, which essentially requires consumers to rely on Amazon’s own app store, which at the moment makes the Windows Phone app store seem large by comparison.
The phone seems expensive, but for the hardware a consumer would be in possession of, it is actually a lot cheaper than one would expect. Should you buy this phone? If you do not have a smartphone and you are not invested in the Windows Phone, iOS , or Android ecosystems I think it delivers a tremendous amount of value for the money. Phones that do not ship with Android, iOS, or Windows Phone that are relying on new ecosystems are an experiment; Fire OS is not exactly a new OS, and it has a long track record on the Amazon Kindle Fire, and this phone actually comes with a spec list that is more impressive than Amazon’s tablets but I am not sure if anyone wants to relearn, how to use a smartphone at this point.
Fire OS is built off of Android, and implementations and deviations of the “pure” Android experience are both the gift and the curse. Android is open source, so anyone can manipulate it, built on top of it, and reverse engineer the OS to get it to do what they want it to do. Samsung did this with the look and feel of the phone, but it did not affect the interoperability of the Galaxy phones with Android from anything offered in the Google Play store by creating a new paradigm. Amazon has always sought to create their own ecosystem off of Android, and is following in their own steps as well as taking a page out of Barnes and Nobles playbook by creating a device that needs to run apps offered exclusively through their own platform. For Android Gingerbread, this was necessary, but Android has evolved to the point where it works well out of the box without third party modifications.
Can Amazon convince developers to port their apps to their own OS? AT&T is a partner, so you can expect to see this device sold through GoPhone and Cricket, and if you are using one of AT&T’s prepaid services this may actually be a nice way for you to purchase great hardware for a low price. But I cannot see anyone using post paid services taking this smartphone seriously, when Google Nexus phones that run Android without any modifications, and without apps a user may not want or need, for an extra $100. Yet, ironically, AT&T is not offering this device through its prepaid channels, betting that enough post paid consumers will evangelize the device, causing a demand for individuals that use cheap prepaid devices to pay the full price of the phone.
There are a lot of apps that are available through the Amazon App store for Android, but there are also a lot of apps that are not available that a user could install through Google Play or One Market. If Amazon is struggling with an app store devoted to Android, what makes anyone think that we will see decent applications made available for their own OS? You may see a few power users modifying this smartphone , because the hardware is just that good, which was the case with the Kindle Fire tablets but I seriously doubt anyone will be using this phone as it is intended to be used. But again, if you’re not invested and you just want a powerful device, this may be a product worth looking into. The millions of apps that are available Android, officially through Google Play, and unofficially through individual websites that keep track of obscure apps, are not necessarily the best apps, nor are they necessarily apps that enhance the overall experience of the phone, but they do answer questions and address the needs for a small segment of the population that does not care about Facebook or Google Maps. If Amazon can do a few things really well, this could make up for the negative perceptions some technologies have of the “kitchen sink” approach of Android, while creating a viable alternative to the top three players in the mobile market.