Five things we need to know about Amazon's smartphone

Wednesday 18 July 2012 16.10
Amazon looking to replicate success of Kindle Fire
Amazon looking to replicate success of Kindle Fire

Last year, Amazon disrupted the tablet market by releasing a comparatively low-end product with modest ambitions of being a simple content delivery device. The Kindle Fire was an instant hit with users tired of the eternal race between iOS and myriad Android pretenders. Now Amazon is rumoured to be developing a handset but can it replicate the success of the Fire? Using that experience as a template, here are five questions Amazon will have to deal with before a (US) release and how it might handle them.

Why does Amazon need a smartphone, anyway?

Amazon, in the US at least, has been developing a slate of cloud services from personal e-mail to enterprise storage. On the consumer side e-book ubiquity has now been augmented by a music download store, video on demand, textbook rentals, a curated app store and the impressive Silk Web browser. The building blocks of a successful smartphone service are already in place, the only thing that's missing is a handset to capitalise on it - a case of being all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Who is this aimed at?

The Kindle Fire did well as a content delivery device purely for consumers and any Amazon smartphone will have to adopt a similar posture. Where the Kindle created its own niche as low spec with good user experience the rules change dramatically in the bewildering mobile market. If Amazon wants to keep people within its ecosystem of cloud and content services it will need some kind of novelty. No one is going to ask for an Amazon phone to be put on a corporate network, so this gives enormous latitude in the design stakes. Blackberry fans need not apply.

Will this be a high or low tech device?

There is a long history of established tech brands failing to translate into hardware. Handsets boasting integration with iTunes, Skype and Facebook all flopped and Amazon will have to deal with the fact that recognition does not translate to loyalty across markets. In order to keep up with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S, HTC One and iPhone certain standards will have to be adhered to. Even as a basic content delivery device a branded smartphone will need a dual core processor, 512Mb RAM, 4" screen and 8Gb internal memory (with microSD slot) to compete as an e-reader/multimedia device that happens to be a phone as well. Amazon will need a large screen to push its content to and that demands there be enough under it to compete. High tech it shall have to be.

Which carriers will support it?

One of the mysteries of the Kindle e-reader is its free global 3G connectivity allowing for downloading reading matter within 60 seconds. The much more data-intensive Kindle Fire only comes in a Wi-Fi model so the issue of 3G coverage hasn’t arisen before. In the US Amazon has an arrangement with AT&T for e-book downloads, but the demands of streaming multimedia could force Amazon into a deal with a 4G long-term evolution network operator like US Cellular or T-Mobile. Download speeds of up to 300Mb/s are more than enough to handle streaming HD content and would be a strong selling point in a space where Samsung, HTC, LG and Motorola are only just establishing a presence. Should Amazon go with LTE (and really it has to) it could be some time before we see it in Ireland seeing as the infrastructure doesn't exist. Though a partnership signed between Three and Vodafone would indicate a national roll-out of 4G is on the way... at some stage.

When is it coming out?

The Kindle Fire was announced in September 2011 and was released the following November. Analyst firm IDC estimates it sold 4.7 million units in the final quarter of the year (just under 1 million units a week), so it's safe to say the scheduling was successful. A report in AllThingsD suggests a product announcement (most likely the Kindle Fire 2) will take place next month, leaving September wide open for a launch. Once again, Americans can look forward to a stocking-filler while everyone else gets to read the reviews in envy.

Niall Kitson is editor of TechCentral.ie www.techcentral.ie