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Amazon Turns Up the Heat

Eugene Gan - published on 06/19/14

Firefly can also recognize printed web and email addresses, as well as read numbers. If it detects a telephone number, it’ll offer to call that number for you. Frankly, all these features (and more) are available via apps on the iPhone. Amazon’s move is simply to incorporate these features seamlessly into the Fire Phone, even adding a dedicated one-push Firefly button: “Deeply integrated [into its] vast digital ecosystem” is how Amazon sells it.

The new technology demonstrated is potentially useful. I can see pulling out one of these screens to show 3D models to my animation students. I can see using the Firefly recognition features to connect various media with other similar media content when in discussions with my communications students, or have it recognize art work and provide more information about the artist and the context of the painting for my fine art students.

There are a lot of possibilities, but when it’s priced at the same price point as the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy, and when Amazon locks you into AT&T as the carrier, and so blatantly herds you into its own colossal e-commerce ecosystem, the new features of the Fire Phone come across as gimmicky. Sure, Amazon’s shares went up 2% as I write this, but other numbers balance this out: the Apple store has more than 100 billion downloads with more than $25 billion paid to app developers, and lists more than 1 million apps. Amazon’s appstore by contrast has about 240,000 apps. It will take more than gimmicky technology to increase the number of Fire Phone users in an already flooded marketplace.

“Amazon Prime brings so much joy to the world,” Bezos also said. It might be more accurate to say that Amazon Prime brings a smile to Jeff Bezos if people are subscribing to Amazon Prime and buying more stuff from him. It’s classic business marketing and sales, but it feels manipulative, encouraging a culture to adopt an attitude of consuming more than it can afford.

At the very least, consider this: Amazon’s Fire Phone is set to launch on July 25. Apple is expected to unveil two new handsets this Fall. If you can muster some patience in waiting a couple more months to see what iPhone 6 has to offer, it makes sense to postpone any decisions till then to compare Apple’s and Amazon’s offering at that time before making a purchase. Patience is a virtue.

Dr. Eugene Ganis faculty associate of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life and Professor of Interactive Media, Communications, and Fine Art at Franciscan University of Steubenville. His latest book isInfinite Bandwidth: Encountering Christ in the Media.

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