Amazon's Fire Phone features new technologies such as Firefly and dynamic perspective. But Amazon's strategy -- pushing its own hardware, not the app, so closely tied to its own store -- raises some serious questions.
Amazon finally unveiled Wednesday (June 18) its long-anticipated smartphone. So, what’s the verdict?
Dubbed Fire Phone, it incorporates a couple of differentiated technologies such as Firefly and dynamic perspective. I find them impressive.
Yet I don’t think I’m alone regarding Amazon’s strategy -- pushing its own hardware, not the app, so closely tied to its own store and services -- somewhat puzzling and even a little offensive. With so many smartphones to choose from, why would any consumers opt for a Fire Phone that’s blatantly self-serving for Amazon and doesn’t even include the Google Play store?
Database of coded objects
First, let’s talk technology. Integrated in the phone is "Firefly," a feature designed to recognize "over 100 million" items, according to Amazon, from the information Fire Phone captures through its cameras and microphone.
The consumer is instructed to point the Fire phone at an object. Fire Phone will scan the object, record its information, and identify it, using the database in the Amazon Web Services cloud. Once identified, the item appears on-screen, where more information appears -- mainly that you can buy it from Amazon. Just add it to your cart automatically -- without even touching a keyboard.
So what are the basic building blocks for Firefly?
Richard Doherty, research director at the Envisioneering Group, breaks it down:
High-resolution cameras and always-on 3G and 4G services; probably does not need a quad core CPU. Low light level and IR night vision cameras. It needs audio for picking up ambient sound, music, TV soundtrack, movie soundtracks. On the back end, you need a fast, seemingly endless AWS (Amazon Web Services) cloud -- as Amazon has architected, for Firefly to work its recognition magic quickly.
Firefly works by comparing imagery, bar codes, QR Codes, words (OCR), and sounds within Amazon’s massive -- and always growing -- database of coded objects in the AWS cloud, Doherty explains.
As Ian Fogg, senior principal analyst at IHS Technology, says, “Firefly is using a combination of on-device software which creates a ‘fingerprint’ of the image, which is small enough to upload and for Amazon's cloud database to analyze and report back a match.” However, to my question about whether this feature only works on Fire Phone, Fogg adds that it's unclear if Firefly depends on the Fire smartphone's hardware.