At an unveiling in Seattle, online retail giant Amazon announced its entry into the smartphone market with a new device called "Fire." NPR's Martin Kaste was at the unveiling in Seattle, and he offers his take on the event.
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Amazon announced its entry into the smartphone market today. The phone is called Fire, and it made its entrance with the kind of hype-filled event that tech companies have become very good at producing. NPR's Martin Kaste was at the unveiling in Seattle and joins us. Hello, Martin.
MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Hi, Robert.
SIEGEL: So what's the hype about this time? Tell us about the Fire.
KASTE: Well, Robert, the big gimmick, I guess you might say, for this phone is the screen. There was a lot of tease marketing about this the last couple of weeks. Amazon put out some publicity sort of hinting at the fact that this would be a three-dimensional screen on the phone. And in fact, what this is is a screen - it looks like a normal smartphone until you start moving your head around. There are forward-facing cameras on the phone that track your - the movement of your eyes and your head. And it creates an illusion of movement for whatever it's displaying, so the perspective changed. It's kind of like those little 3D stickers used to get as kids that you'd move your head in the flag would wave. That kind of thing. And that's the gee whiz part of this.
But on the business side of things, what's grabbing people's attention is a function called Firefly. You press a button, and this phone will identify things in the material world around you. It'll identify a song and connect to where you can buy it. It'll identify the UPC code on your favorite peanut butter. It'll even recognize the scene of the television show you're watching, and maybe you might want to order that. So Firefly seems to be the real killer app from a marketing point of view.
SIEGEL: Sounds like it could drive you completely crazy with everything around you being identified by your Fire phone.
KASTE: (Laughing) I have to say, given that some of the demos they did in there, this is a great phone if you are really into following along the lyrics of the latest Justin Timberlake song. It'll do things like that. But I'm not sure if you want your phone identifying everything you handle in your world.
SIEGEL: Now the other big piece of the buzz here about the Fire phone from Amazon is that it makes it that much easier, I gather, to use your Amazon phone to buy stuff from Amazon.
KASTE: Yeah, that's really what I think this is all about. This is Amazon trying to figure out a way to one up Apple and its whole idea of having its closed ecosystem. Where you buy one Apple product, and you buy them all, and they all mesh together. Here, Amazon wants that, but not so much for devices. It wants that to happen for the retail world. It wants your phone to help sort of yoke together all your purchase considerations and shopping and put it all in through your phone, which has, of course, an Amazon connection. And all the sudden, everything you buy is about Amazon Prime and your subscription to Amazon services.
SIEGEL: But you mentioned Apple. Apple's been in the phone business - in the smartphone business for a while now. Apple, Samsung - this could be a very tough market for Amazon to compete in, no?
KASTE: Yeah, the landscape is littered with people who've spent billions trying to develop a smart phone and, you know, come up short. Some people still talk about the failed Facebook phone or Google's attempt to build their own phones. I think what Amazon's up to here is beyond devices. It really is about creating this ecosphere for retail, creating more devices in your life that connect you more tightly with Amazon's products and services.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Martin Kaste speaking to us from Seattle about the introduction of Amazon's new smart phone. Martin, thank you.
KASTE: You're welcome, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.