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APTOPIX Amazon Smartphone Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos introduces the new Amazon Fire Phone in Seattle.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos introduces the new Amazon Fire Phone in Seattle.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
Published: Wednesday, 6/18/2014

Amazon unveils Fire Phone at Seattle event

Easy access to Amazon services expected

ASSOCIATED PRESS

SEATTLE — Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has unveiled a new smartphone called Fire Phone.

It’s smaller than the leading Android phone, but larger than Apple’s iPhone. Bezos calls the screen, measuring 4.7 inches diagonally, ideal for one-handed use.

Mr. Bezos opened the event by talking about its $99-a-year Prime membership. It began with free shipping but has expanded to include free video streaming, e-book lending and more. Viewing Prime content is expected to be a component in the new phone.

Mr. Bezos then talked about advances in Amazon’s hardware. He says early devices got mixed reviews, but the gadgets have improved since then. He says research has shown Amazon’s brand to be strong.

Amazon.com Inc. got its start in books and soon moved into music, video, devices and more. Analysts believe the goal of an Amazon-branded smartphone is to get customers to buy more things from the nation’s largest e-commerce company. The device might include an Amazon shopping app or other features tied to the company’s products and services.

Competing won’t be easy. Amazon is arriving late to a tightly contested marketplace. Samsung and Apple dominate worldwide smartphone sales with a combined 46 percent share, according to IDC. And in the U.S., Apple leads with more than 37 percent, with Samsung at nearly 29 percent.

Amazon has tried to chip away at Apple’s top position in the tablet market with its Kindle Fire HDX tablet, which beats the iPad Air’s screen resolution and is lighter and cheaper. Still, the iPad dominates the category while Amazon has seen its market share shrink from 7 percent in 2012 to 2 percent in the first quarter of this year.

But that hasn’t stopped Amazon. In April, the company started selling its Fire TV video streaming device to compete with similar gadgets from Apple, Google and Roku. Like Amazon’s other gadgets, Fire TV offers easy access to content that consumers buy from Amazon or get for free with Prime.

Here’s what’s coming out of the event at Seattle’s Fremont Studios, about a 10-minute drive north of the company’s headquarters:

SPECS AND FEATURES:

— Media reports point to a smartphone that might have multiple cameras to produce 3-D images. It wouldn’t be the first 3-D phone, but it would set it apart from leading phones such as Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy S5.

— Some analysts speculate that the 3-D feature might tie into an Amazon shopping app. Shoppers might be able to use the phone to take a 3-D picture of a product in a store, then search for the object on Amazon and buy it online.

— Amazon’s Kindle tablets run a highly modified version of Google’s Android system, and it’s likely an Amazon phone would do the same. That means apps for the phone would be limited to what’s available through Amazon’s own app store. The store has grown to include more than 240,000 apps, but there’s much more for Android and Apple devices.

AVAILABILITY:

— The Wall Street Journal has reported that AT&T will be the exclusive carrier for the new phone. If that’s true, it would be a similar approach to what Apple took when it unveiled its first iPhone in 2007. AT&T had exclusive rights to the iPhone in the U.S. until 2011, when Verizon and eventually others got it, too.

— Analysts say the phone might come with a data plan that could let owners use Amazon services without using up any data.

NOT A FIRST:

— Facebook once tried to release a phone tied to its services. The HTC First, released in April 2013, came with Facebook’s Home software, which takes over the phone’s front screen to present status updates, messages and other content. Both the phone and the software flopped.

— Google also has its own phones under the Nexus brand, mostly to showcase its Android operating system. Google makes Android available for free for any phone manufacturer to use and modify. That makes it difficult to know what’s really Android and what’s a modification.

PAST FORAYS INTO GADGETS:

— Amazon’s first gadget was a Kindle e-reader, released in 2007. Although there are plenty of devices that do more, many people still prefer stand-alone e-book readers because they typically have better screens for reading in direct sunlight and don’t have distractions such as Facebook and email.

— The company started making Kindle Fire tablets in 2011. The latest models, HDX, are notable for a Mayday help button that accesses live tech support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You see the representatives in a video box, but they can only hear you and see what’s on your screen. They can also help guide you by placing orange markers on your screen or taking control of your device completely.

— In April, Amazon released its Fire TV streaming devices. What sets it apart from rival gadgets is a voice search feature that lets you speak the title, actor, director or genre into your remote to get matching content on the TV.



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