Amazon’s New Phone Is Basically A Portable Shopping Mall

Nice hat… let me buy it.

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Amazon’s new phone is here and it wants to lower every conceivable barrier between you and the checkout cart.

In appearance, the phone is like every other rectangular iPhone or Android clone. It has a somewhat impressive dynamic display that shifts perspective, giving some depth to the screen, which is more pronounced and sophisticated than the light parallax that iOS 7 rolled out last year. It feels a bit like 3D, but only slightly.

But all the smart-scrolling, perspective-shifting, and user interface tricks are window dressing. Amazon’s phone is designed to do one thing extraordinarily well: to make purchasing from the mega-retailer frictionless.

To that end, the Fire Phone will feature advanced image recognition that will allow you to use photos as well as your camera to search for content and physical items. Bezos said the feature, dubbed “Firefly,” can recognize more than 100 million items. It scans art! And street signs! But most importantly, it scans buyable items for quick and easy Amazon Prime purchase. It’s very similar to Amazon’s Dash wand, which allows users to scan barcodes inside a house or at a store and automatically send items to restock.

So who’s going to buy this?


It’s a bit unclear. The phone will cost about $200 and lock you into a two-year AT&T contract. Gadgetheads are already complaining that the UI is a mess and that it’s hard to imagine anyone will be tempted to jump from Apple or Android for the Bezos iCommerce Phone. That may be true. But there’s another possible option here. This is a utilitarian phone for people and families who buy a lot of things and want to do it quickly and painlessly.

In a recent survey, Amazon Prime members said they spend $538 per year, on average, at Amazon. That’s 68% more than the $320 per year that non-Prime respondents said they spend on Amazon. Also: Prime subscribers were also much more likely to spend more than $200 over the prior 90 days, compared to non-Primers. Today the company noted it had “tens of millions of Prime subscribers.”

While those who appreciate Apple’s attention to design and Google’s comprehensive digital ecosystem, respectively, might turn up their noses at the Fire Phone, it’s easy to imagine that busy, Prime-subscribing families could find it very appealing. Working parents with young kids, single parents, collectors, and others who favor utility over cache might relish the the idea of being able to point and click and restock diapers (or whatever) on the fly. And while that’s a niche audience for sure, it’s an audience that’s proven it can and will spend the money.

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