technology

Opinion: Don’t Dismiss Amazon’s Fire Phone Just Yet

In today’s news, it was reported that the price of the still relatively new Amazon Fire Phone has been slashed to just 99 cents. Yes, CENTS. Here, see for yourself.

It should be noted that that’s the price if you take a two-year contract with AT&T, the phone’s exclusive provider. Still, that’s a steep markdown considering the phone launched just a couple of months ago in July at a price of 199 DOLLARS with a two-year AT&T contract.

The TV report I saw said that this drastic price cut appears to be in response to poor sales of the phone, saying it has been “struggling.”

I have some thoughts on this “struggling” product, which I feel shouldn’t be dismissed just yet — I think we may one day be surprised by its longevity and eventual popularity.

First, some background

I don’t own the phone, although I have been intrigued about buying it for two reasons. First of all, I like Amazon and their products; for example, I own their Kindle PaperWhite and find it great. So I’d be open to a phone made by them. Secondly, I don’t currently own a smartphone; I still have an old flip phone. (Stop laughing!) So for me, this would be a fine transition into the smartphone realm.

However, I do see that people who already have a smartphone won’t necessarily be compelled to switch. The Fire Phone’s operating system is a custom-built version of an Android system, so it doesn’t offer the full spectrum of Android functionality; for instance, from what I’ve read, you can’t use many popular Google apps and services on it.

According to this article by Ryan Whitwam for Extreme Tech, “When you buy a Fire Phone, you get Amazon’s services in place of Google’s. That means no Chrome, Play Store, Google Play Music, Google Drive, or Gmail. Instead you get Silk Browser, Amazon Appstore, Cloud Player, Cloud Drive, and Amazon’s generic email client.”

Clearly, this makes the Fire Phone less than appealing to customers who are used to a full-fledged Android operating system and enjoy these Google services, or those with an iPhone and the wide range of apps and services available on that system as well.

Once you add in the fact that customers would have to use AT&T, you can see why the Fire Phone does have some issues; I know I personally prefer Verizon, so this aspect alone has been a major reason why I decided against movin’ on up into the smartphone world with this phone even though I was initially excited by it. So it’s even more understandable to me why someone who already has one, especially if they’re not already an AT&T customer, would hesitate to make this change.

Advertising fail?

I also didn’t like Amazon’s advertising strategy for the Fire Phone at first. Have you seen the commercials for it, featuring pretentious kids schooling adults around them about how great it is? If not, here’s one of them, from the Fire Phone’s YouTube channel:

When I first saw these ads, I thought, “Does Amazon really want its phone to be considered a kids’ phone?”

Think again

Yet think of this advertising strategy in light of what Apple did over the years to position itself as a leader in the tech industry: early in its history, and even today, Apple has made deals with schools to provide them with computer equipment for free. This has been a great charitable move on their part, but let’s be honest — there’s also a benefit to them as well. They’ve wanted Apple to be familiar to kids in order to plants the roots for a strong customer base in the years to come; their view from the outset was that the system you first learn on is likely to be the one you’ll buy later on. This approach has been well-documented; take a look at this article by Todd Oppenheimer in The Atlantic, which mentions how Apple “shrewdly” went about turning “legions of families into Apple loyalists” with strategies like this.

So my guess is that’s what Amazon is striving for, too — gaining customers in the future by planting the seeds now. Step one: target kids in the ads and now slash the price so low there’s really no barrier to getting one. That way, parents are more likely get the phone for their kids — or better yet, kids may proactively start begging their parents for one.

Then, who knows, maybe some parents might actually be more open to switching their own phones once they have exposure to it from their kids; but even without that, those children may one day be loyal Fire Phone customers due to their exposure to it at an early age. I mean, I know I have a fondness for Apple computers to this day from my time learning on an Apple IIe in school! So it just might work, and is likely the best advertising approach Amazon could use at this phase in the Fire Phone’s existence.

It’s not just about the phone

Besides, I don’t think the Fire Phone is supposed to be a powerhouse product on its own, but rather a driver of increased sales for Amazon overall. This fits in with the business approach commonly used by Jeff Bezos of Amazon, who’s always been more focused on long-term standing versus short-term gain. Some examples:

  • Even in Amazon’s early days, Bezos wanted to offer products more cheaply to build a strong customer base, even if it was at a loss to Amazon in the moment.
  • He was also willing to direct customers to other external sites if they searched for a product he didn’t sell; the goal was to make Amazon a customer’s first stop, even if that meant referring them on to other businesses when necessary. (I’ve noticed Amazon still does this to this day, although their inventory has grown so much it’s rarely necessary to be directed to an external site now.)
  • Jeff also allowed customers to post negative reviews of products before anyone else did so; people found that shocking at the time, saying it would adversely affect the site’s business, but Jeff wanted customers to view Amazon as a place they could trust buying from, as well as a one-stop-shop where they could both research and purchase the right product for them.

Amazon has also sold its hardware, like its Kindle e-readers and tablets, relatively cheaply; the focus has typically been on gaining customers and purchases for accompanying electronic books and services versus on sales of the hardware itself. Similarly, its Fire Phone offers Firefly which makes it easier to identify and purchase products directly from Amazon; you can read more on that feature in this CNN article by Doug Gross, which confirms this approach and says that “the Fire Phone is designed to pull you into Amazon’s growing universe of products and services and then keep you there.”

So to me, the Fire Phone is just another example of Amazon hardware being offered at low prices in order to boost its sales in other areas. This makes the phone a win-win situation for Amazon; I can see loyal Amazon customers enjoying that benefit, and Amazon is positioned to really benefit from that convenience to the customer. The phone becomes just one small part in its overall strategy to increase sales even further.

Plus, down the line I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon’s phone offers better features than it does currently, much like the evolution of the Kindle, which took years to develop and improve.

Incidentally, if you’d like to read more all about Amazon’s growth and strategies over the years, in addition to the linked articles here I highly recommend reading One Click: Jeff Bezos and the Rise of Amazon.com by Richard L. Brandt. I learned a lot about Amazon’s history and sales practices from this book, plus it’s an interesting read as well.

So, don’t dismiss the Fire Phone just yet. It may seem to be “struggling,” but that’s only if you look at it in black-and-white terms, on a standalone basis. I believe it has some tricks up its sleeve that may just position it for long-term success in ways many might not expect — and besides, it’s just one part of Amazon’s overall, big-picture approach for ongoing growth in the future.

The Pros and Cons of Today’s Technology

Yesterday I visited the entertaining Fish of Gold blog and read a great post about social media. The post, and the insightful comments readers wrote in response, made me think about my own views on the pros and cons of today’s technology, especially as it relates to smartphones and their video capabilities.

The NYC Subway Incident

I was reminded of an article I’d read a few months back, about a man who’d ended up in the New York City subway tracks. The article had included a video a witness had filmed of the incident. You can see the article here, and below is the video itself:

While the man didn’t end up getting out of the tracks in time, as we see, the good news is he wasn’t hurt by the train; miraculously, he stayed low enough that it rolled right over him without any major injury.

Besides the scariness of the train rolling in over a man, what I found (and still find) so disturbing about this incident was the fact that such a thorough video of it exists in the first place. I don’t understand how it could be filmed by a bystander so calmly, without any attempt to actually help the situation.

Look, I get that not everyone would have the guts or physical ability to pull the man out or jump down into the tracks (although the guys who do try really impress me, I must say).

But who can actually do nothing during a moment like this? Instead of using your phone to film this, why not try to use it to call 911? Or why not run upstairs to see if the token booth has an MTA employee who might be able to delay the next train? Or maybe see if you can find a cop?

Anything is worth a try, and our basic humanity should be willing to do at least that regardless of how the person came to be in the situation he’s in, whether it’s due to alcohol or drugs, or whether he jumped in himself. None of that should matter; you don’t necessarily have to risk your own life, but do something.

Now, I do get how some people freeze during an emergency or can’t face disturbing situations. But that was not the case here. The man filming had the wherewithal to stay on the scene and proceed with recording it all. What’s more, he had no idea the man would not get out in time, and that the train would fortunately not harm him. For all he knew, he was about to capture a man being killed on the tracks — and he was ready to do so. But why would you want to film a gruesome moment like that?

I still don’t get it; to me, this video represents the negative side to technology today — or rather, how some people choose to use it.

Children Can Be More Helpful Than Adults With Phones in Their Hands

A comment posted on the Fish of Gold blog perfectly echoed these sentiments. The writer behind the Card Castles in the Sky blog shared this news story from June of this year, describing a woman being attacked by another woman in public, in front of many people — yet no one but her own two-year-old son tries to help her. And, the news article and video say that no one called 911, either — yet we still have video, because someone felt their phone was better used for that, apparently.

Here’s a link directly to another video about the attack, also featuring some of the bystander footage:

Just another example of how some people lose all sense with a smartphone in their hands.

Eric Garner’s Arrest, and Death

Yet I see things differently when it comes to the Eric Garner arrest on Staten Island this month, the one resulting in his death when he was choked by a cop and stopped breathing. The whole incident was filmed by a witness — in a case like that, I do see the benefits of today’s technology and why someone would, and should, capture such a horrific event.

For those of you who may not have heard of this, especially if you’re not from the New York area or the United States, you can read more about the arrest here. Or you can go straight to a video of what happened:

Now, in a case like this, there’s really nothing a civilian can do other than film what’s happening. I mean, what are you going to do — call the cops? Looks like that would only make things worse for this poor guy.

The person who filmed the original video, Ramsey Orta, has been hailed as a hero for doing it — and I have to say I agree. Otherwise, there would have been no proof of how aggressively Eric Garner was handled by the cops (and over such a minor alleged infraction as selling loose cigarettes, incidentally).

Plus the cops would have never admitted to what happened, despite any eyewitness accounts; even with this video in the news, they issued an official report you can read more about here which stated that Garner was not in “great distress” during the arrest. The report also fails to mention that he was taken down via a chokehold, a move that cops are prohibited from using during arrests. I can only imagine the limited story we’d have heard had there been no video at all.

Further confirmation of the benefits of having video proof in this case can be seen in this footage, showing Eric Garner after he was choked by cops and became unresponsive:

Notice how even the EMTs do very little to help him, which they later get suspended for (you can read more on that here, if you’re interested). We probably wouldn’t know about that either had there been no video.

We need to know all of this; it’s the only way to possibly improve police and EMT procedures. And also to remind us not to believe everything we’re told, and not to blindly trust all officials just because of the elevated role they have in society.

I mean, it’s chilling to me how several cops heard Eric Garner begging for his life, saying “I can’t breathe” over and over, and still didn’t ease up. I know we’ve been told that all officers will be retrained, but to me, no amount of training should be needed to know that choking the air out of someone is going too far — especially because he didn’t initiate any violence in the first place! (Which, on a side note, is why I can’t get over the officer in the second video who tells bystanders to back up: “We’re trying to give him air.” Now? Maybe you guys should have done that sooner, or maybe no one should have choked him in the first place.)

I’m not usually one to go on rants like this but this incident warrants one, and much more. None of it makes sense and it’s so sad how Eric Garner, a father of six, had no chance that day, both at the hands of the cops and the EMTs.

The only silver lining in it is the video footage; it’s the only chance to affect change when all else fails. And that, to me, is the upside of today’s technology.