Amazon’s Kindle business has been a roaring success, and its Kindle Fire tablets have been well received likewise. But its smartphone attempt has not quite had the same spark. The e-tailer reported a huge $430m (£273m) loss in quarterly earnings today, and much of that was down to a $170m (£105m) writedown on the Fire Phone, which was met with poor sales in the US (It’s only just gone on sale in the UK). We were similarly unimpressed, pointing out in our recent review that the Kindle Fire fails to offer anything particularly compelling compared to other Google certified Android phones. Yet. It’s not too late for Amazon to turn it around: here’s how we’d do it if we were Jeff Bezos.
Add Google Play
There’s no getting around it: Amazon isn’t improving Android by removing all of Google’s software from the underlying open-source software, just limiting it. While the Amazon AppStore is fairly well stocked with must play games and useful services, it’s the omission of Google’s own apps on the Fire Phone that smarts the most. Amazon’s email app is clunky and underpowered compared to the peerless Gmail Android client, and there’s a big Google Maps shaped hole in Fire OS too. All of these problems would be negated for punters if they could just have access to the Google Play store too. After all, if Amazon is so confident its software is better, what’s it got to be scared of?
Cut the price
Amazon like to tout its phone as affordable, but the truth is the Amazon Fire Phone is not a great deal, even if you’re tempted by the year’s subscription to Amazon Prime thrown in. At £28 per month on a two year contract, or £399 upfront on Pay As You Go, the Fire Phone is far more expensive than the stunning new Motorola Moto G, which comes with a huge five-inch HD screen and costs just £144 unlocked for use on any network. While Amazon’s phone may sport a slightly faster processor, the truth is you’d be hard pressed to detect much difference in performance between the pair. Which brings us to the next point...
Design does matter
If you are going to charge £400 in a world where the Motorola Moto G exists, you’d better make sure your phone looks the part. Sadly, the Amazon Fire Phone does not. While the company just about got away with the plain black plastic vibe on the Fire tablet line up (after all, a tablet is still a luxury device, and all about the screen), customers clearly aren’t giving the Fire Phone a similar pass. As we said in our review, the thick, smeary, glossy Fire Phone looks like an encased iPhone prototype an employee accidentally left in a bar somewhere. Compared to the iPhone 6, HTC One (M8) or the full metal jacketed Samsung Galaxy Alpha, well, it just doesn’t - and these rivals are only marginally more expensive.
Enter the specs war
If Amazon isn’t going to up its design game, it should at least consider entering the smartphone specs arms race. The 720p resolution screen of the Fire Phone looks paltry in comparison to the astonishing 2K, beyond HD panel on the LG G3 Android phone. The 13 megapixel camera meanwhile can’t compete with the latest sensors from Apple, Sony and Nokia (now Microsoft). Future Fire Phones need to at least keep up with the big boys if the company’s going to charge much the same price as Samsung, Sony et al.
Stop focusing on selling
Amazon treats its Fire devices much like digital kiosks, and another chance to hawk you all its wares. You can’t really begrudge it that after all, since the company runs on wafer thin margins at the best of times, but it’s telling that the best ideas Amazon has introduced to tablets and smartphones are the ones that aren’t trying to get you to buy batteries or a few more chances to lose at Candy Crush Saga. Its Mayday helpline, manned by real assistants who can draw on your screen and change settings for you, is a godsend for technophobes, while its multiple cameras on the front face let you peek and pan around the screen without even touching it - an idea with lots of potential still to be realised. More focus on the user convenience, and less on the impulse buys will surely help make the next Fire Phone more of an impulse buy itself.