Amazon is holding an event on June 18th to unveil a new device… which is almost certainly the company’s first smartphone.
It’s expected to feature an unusual user interface with support for 3D features thanks to eye-tracking sensors on the front of the device, and you could be able to control the phone by tilting it in your hand — making Amazon’s phone easier to use with one hand than many other smartphones.
But those aren’t the only features that could make Amazon’s smartphone stand out in a crowded market.
Amazon is first and foremost a store. It sells books, computers, and an ever-expanding amount of digital content including apps, music, movies, and eBooks. So in one sense, Amazon’s smartphone will be a shopping mall you can hold in your hands. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing… because folks who aren’t tempted to spend money every time Amazon throws a new product recommendation your way are likely to get some pretty nice perks for a reasonably low price.
Once upon a time Amazon launched a service called Prime that let subscribers pay $79 per year for free 2-day shipping on many items. Eventually the company expanded Prime by adding support for streaming thousands of movies and TV shows. Kindle owners also got access to a large library of eBooks, which they could borrow at a rate of one per month.
The cost of Prime membership recently went up to $99 per year, but Amazon has added another perk: the ability to stream music on demand from Prime Music. While Amazon doesn’t have the rights to stream as many songs as rivals Rdio, Spotify, or Google Play All Access, folks who pay less than a hundred bucks per year now get access to a wide selection of videos, books, and music… in addition to free 2-day shipping on millions of items.
Soon you’ll be able to access that content on a pocket-sized smartphone, a Kindle Fire tablet, a Fire TV, a Kindle eReader, or a phone, tablet, or PC running a different operating system.
While you don’t need to be a Prime subscriber to use a Kindle, Kindle Fire, or Fire TV, these devices hold the most value for folks who do pay Amazon an annual fee. Sure, Amazon probably hopes that the more you get used to streaming music and videos or borrowing books from its content libraries, the more likely you are to turn to Amazon next time you want to buy something that’s not included with the price of membership. But you probably won’t ever have to.
So the 3D user interface (which has reportedly been in development for 5 years) and tilt-based navigation might literally be head-turning features that help Amazon’s smartphone look different from anything currently available. But the phone’s true value will likely be tied up in its integration with Amazon’s digital media services… especially for Prime subscribers.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the Amazon phone will be an AT&T exclusive at launch (which sounds pretty limiting… but don’t forget that the original iPhone was also an AT&T exclusive… and Apple seems to have done pretty well for itself in the smartphone space).
There have also been reports suggesting that the phone could come with something called “Prime Data,” which might let users access some digital content (such as Prime Music or Prime videos) over a cellular connection without counting against your mobile data cap.
On the other hand, the Amazon phone probably won’t be the best choice for everyone. It’s expected to have a 4.7 inch, 720p display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, 2GB of RAM, and Amazon’s Fire OS software. It will be able to run 240,000 apps from the Amazon Appstore, but that’s less than a quarter of the apps available from Google Play Store for Android.
Folks looking for more powerful hardware, a better display, a wider selection of apps, or privacy might be better off with a different device. On the other hand, Amazon’s first phone could be a great device to make existing Amazon customers even more loyal. Whether it’s enough to attract new customers remains to be seen.
We should know more about Amazon’s hardware, software, and strategy for entering the mobile space on June 18th.