Amazon.com chief executive Jeff Bezos rolled out Amazon’s entrant into the phone wars Wednesday, the Amazon Fire. As with most mobile devices these days, phone calls are almost an afterthought. First and foremost, Fire is a shopping device. It’s not aimed at general consumers; it’s aimed at what Bezos described as “our most engaged customers.” Aggressively priced, it includes several whiz-bang features that, if they work as advertised, raise the bar for Apple, Google, and other device makers. Here are five things to know from Wednesday’s unveiling:
1. Object recognition
Amazon’s big new feature is “Firefly,” technology uses four built-in cameras and four infrared LED lights to recognize more than 100 million objects in the real world. Interested in that toaster, or want to buy your friend’s new jacket? No need to search; jusy point the camera, and Fire will recognize it, share details on the product — even let you purchase it on Amazon.com. Amazon says Firefly can recognize songs in its catalog, movies and TV shows — even specific episodes or scenes from favorite shows — and allow a purchase in seconds.
2. Souped-up recommendations
Freaked out by the recommendations you get already on Amazon.com? Fire takes it to another level. Its ASAP feature (Advanced Streaming and Prediction) predicts the movies and TV episodes you’ll want to watch before you request them, and load them in advance for speedy viewing.
3. Prime directive
Amazon Prime members get most of the benefits here. If you fork over $99 a year for Prime membership, you get free two-day shipping on most items, and unlimited access to the 33 million songs, apps, games, movies, and TV shows inside the Amazon ecosystem. Oh, and you can buy books, too. Early adopters get 12 months of Prime membership included in the purchase of a Fire.
4. Unlimited cloud storage of photos
The storage wars are becoming very interesting, as large files move to the cloud. Photos and videos take up far more space than e-mail and documents. Users who want to store items on their devices need to pay extra for the storage space, while users who want to rust the cloud can move online. Apple’s new iCloud storage offers the first 5 gigabytes for free, then charge 99 cents a month for 20 gigabytes of storage, or $3.99 a month for 200 gigabytes of storage. Google gives you 15 gigabytes of free storage, then it starts charging. Amazon didn’t talk about video, but it will store all photos for free. A good deal, if the camera is good enough and you don’t have a large existing photo archive.
5. Size and price
The Fire is available only on the AT&T network for now. The intro price is $199 with a two-year contract for 32 gigabytes of device storage, which is double the amount you get on an iPhone at the same price. The screen, at 4.7 inches in size, is larger than the largest iPhone, the 4-inch 5S, but smaller than the 5.1-inch Samsung Galaxy 5s.