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Amazon breaks into the smartphone market with the Fire phone
Amazon breaks into the smartphone market with the Fire phone
June 18, 2014 | By Alex Wawro

Amazon made its move into the smartphone market today by announcing the Fire, which runs on Amazon's Android-based Fire OS and ties directly into the popular Amazon App Store.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled the phone during a press event in Seattle. The device, which will be available July 25th exclusively from AT&T, has a 4.7-inch LCD screen, four front-facing cameras and a 13-megapixel camera on its back.

Inside, it's running on a 2.2 Ghz CPU, 2 GB of RAM and an Adreno 330 mobile GPU. Assuming you buy into a two-year contract, the 32 GB model will run you $199, while the 64 GB Fire clocks in at $299.

Of course, what makes the Fire phone so interesting is the fact that, like the Kindle Fire tablet, it's built to support Amazon's existing services -- including the remarkably game-friendly Amazon App Store.

Owners will also be able to ask for help with their phone via Amazon's extant Mayday online tech support service, for example, and store an unlimited number of photos for free on Amazon's servers. Naturally, the Fire will also ship with support for Amazon's various content delivery services -- Prime Instant Streaming, Amazon Kindle, and Amazon Music -- and, at least for a limited time, a free year of Amazon Prime membership.

The company is also building a product recognition service called Firefly into the Fire phone that's designed to identify both physical and digital products -- shoes, TV shows, songs and the like -- based on a photograph or a snippet of music, presumably in an effort to drive more money to Amazon's core retail business. The phone even has a dedicated Firefly, alongside the four aforementioned low-power cameras.

Those four front-facing cameras are used to track the phone's position in relation to your face, which allows it to do cosmetic tricks like causing images to shift perspective or automatically scrolling up and down as you tilt the phone. Amazon calls it the "Dynamic Perspective" system, and it's making both the Dynamic Perspective SDK and the Firefly SDK available to developers.

From a developer perspective, the launch of the Fire is worth noting because it's likely to shepherd a remarkable number of new users to the Amazon Appstore -- and those people will be looking to load up their new phones with Fire-friendly games and apps.

The front-facing cameras also offer some intriguing possibilities for developing mobile games that play with 3D perspective in interesting ways -- during the presentation Bezos demonstrated Angry Tofu, a version of HotGen's iOS game To-Fu: The Trials of Chi that had been redesigned to permit players to adjust their in-game perspective by tilting the phone or moving their head in front of it.

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Eric Salmon
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The cameras sound pretty neat, and if they work well that's a pretty good way of simplifying camera controls. Could allow a whole lot of people to get into games they couldn't before because of the control barrier.

Maria Jayne
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I would be worried about the effectiveness of those cameras reading my view. I have a kindle fire HDX that randomly decides to go into standby because...well just because, while I'm using it. I don't also want my phone deciding to randomly scroll up/down because I'm not viewing it precisely at 45 degrees or something.

There is a face reading camera on the Samsung S phones and it also regularly fails to recognize I'm viewing it switching to low light screen mode. I suppose maybe I just have a very forgettable face.....or maybe the machine shouldn't be trying to second guess me.

Michael DeFazio
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You're not the only one:

"The games we tested, Threes and Stagedive Legends, had absolutely terrible head-tracking implementations, quite frankly; the lag between motion and on-screen action was too unbearable, a la Kinect.

We had a representative at our side throughout the demo, and any time he had control of a head-tilting moment and aimed the phone my way, the control or sense would become wonky. This noticeably occurred at least six times in our half-hour of testing. "It's seeing both of our faces," he'd say apologetically each time. That's a huge hurdle to overcome, especially if Amazon expects to virally advertise this phone by having enthusiasts show it off."

Ujn Hunter
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I'll definitely be looking into checking this phone out... seeing I'm not happy with Apple since they went to iOS7. Might be time to jump ship for me.

Jonnathan Hilliard
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those cameras would be better off used to track fingers in space above the device for 3d gaming input (e.g. bounce a basket ball) or manipulate an object. or they could track your eyes to see what products you are looking at on haha

Jonnathan Hilliard
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could also use multi cameras to film 3D video... for later playback on oculus