SELLING products online puts the world’s largest pool of potential customers on your doorstep – but as many startup companies find to their cost, it means nothing if all they do is walk right past.
High street shopkeepers addressed this problem long ago, by placing an employee outside the front door to assail passers-by as loudly as possible. Clearly, that’s not going to work on the internet, so a more sophisticated solution has been found. The Amazon Fire smartphone is its newest incarnation – it’s purpose to install an intravenous link from your pocket to their till.
At the launch in the US, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chief executive, showed off its “dynamic perspective” feature, which uses four cameras to create the illusion of 3D on the screen.
He also touched on the phone’s facility to navigate its interface by being tilting in different directions – like one of those games in which you have to get a silver ball into a hole. But that is window dressing; it’s the phone’s so-called Firefly app that is at the heart of Amazon’s strategy. A tap on a button turns the phone into a shop window. Point it at a product and it finds it instantly on Amazon’s website and optionally adds it to your shopping basket.
Amazon has been doing much the same thing for a couple of years now with its range of Kindle tablets, the primary purpose of which is to dispense volumes from the Kindle bookstore. There is some sense there, since only Amazon sells Kindle books. But the rest of its range is available from hundreds of websites. So the purchase of a phone that seeks to restrict your choice to just one outlet is less of a compelling proposition. The Fire phone does have a few qualities that will give Apple and others a run for their money. Its 13 megapixel camera out-does nearly all its rivals, and its large 4.7-inch screen is said to have been designed for use outdoors. Amazon has yet to confirm a release date for the UK. In the States it’s advertised at £117 (plus a monthly fee) for a 32GB handset on a two-year contract. That’s a long time to be window shopping on just one virtual high street.