The Amazon Phone: Is It Destined For Failure In The UK?

The Amazon Fire Phone is here -- and sure enough, it boasts a revolutionary '3D' display which can adjust the perspective within apps and games as you move your head.

It's also pitched as the 'ultimate consumer smartphone', with the new Amazon Firefly feature letting your phone recognise anything from wine labels to songs on the radio using its cameras and microphone. And then prompting you to buy it. Obviously.

But will it be a hit? And will it ever come out in the UK?

At least one study is projecting that if it the Fire Phone is released, it will be an instant smash. A recent poll by Intelligent Environments claimed that nearly a fifth of all Brits would buy an Amazon Phone on hearing about its 3D features. That's nearly 8 million people, who upon hearing about a 3D phone would, if they were at the end of their contract, consider buying the Fire Phone.

That's a staggeringly high number for a company that has never released a phone before, and ultimately it could be the wave that Amazon will have to ride.

(What the study didn't say clearly - which makes its conclusions all the more suspect, arguably - was why people would buy one, or the specifics of the question they were asked in the first place.)

So who are these people who are apparently so ready for an Amazon phone? Take a wander into any Curry's or PC World on a weekday afternoon (as we did) and see them all around you. These are the people that are just 'window shopping' or 'passing through', ready to hoover up content if the mood takes them.

It's Amazon's bread and butter, not only with the website but also with its Kindle Fire and e-Reader business: give people a physical product that's cheap, well made and easy to use and they'll do the rest; buying and consuming content as soon as it becomes available. And window shopping with Firefly.

But are smartphones really devices for consuming content? Or for building shopping lists? Aren't they - at their core - well... phones?

Amazon needs the apps you use most

What is a smartphone? Chatting to some of Amazon's potential smartphone shoppers at PC World, it's not just about buying things or watching things.

Out of the five people we spoke to almost all of them listed WhatsApp, Snapchat, YouTube and Facebook in their must have apps.

Herein lies the issue, at present Amazon is scoring just one out of four with that golden list, it has Facebook but WhatsApp, Snapchat and YouTube's official apps are glaring omissions.

In fact the entire Google suite of products are missing which leads us to assume that come crunch time Amazon will surely have to either announce a major update to its own version of Android, thus opening it up to Google Play, or finally bring Google's suite of apps along with some major new app announcements.

So why would you buy an Amazon Phone if it was missing those core apps? BlackBerry and Windows Phone both tried and at present they're enjoying just 3.2 per cent of the worldwide phone and tablet market share.

A 3D smartphone could work, but it won't be enough

For all the advertising campaigns, subsidised sales and decent reviews, none of Amazon's hardware products outside of the Kindle E-reader itself have ever been what you'd call essential -- or really very visible in the average coffee shop or living room. How many Kindle Fire tablets have been sold? No one knows, because Amazon isn't telling. It's a genuinely open question how many have been bought -- let alone how often they're used once purchased.

But they do at least have a fairly obvious unique selling proposition -- they're cheaper than iPads, and their screens are as good or better.

Amazon seems to think its phone will have an equally attractive USP, namely the 3D screen. But are people are actually ready for another '3D' smartphone? History hasn't exactly been kind to the technology, in particular mobile devices sporting it.

The first true 3D smartphone was Sharp's SH251iS in 2002; it was a simple flip phone that boasted a tiny 3D display and could even take 3D photos (see below). It was a huge success in Japan selling nearly 2 million units.

It's now 12 years later and since that point there have only been two more major 3D phones: The HTC Evo 3D and the LG Optimus 3D.

Both tried to reignite 3D but ultimately people preferred simplicity over the potential complications of having to hold a device in just the right spot between your face and your hand.

So what can Amazon offer that they can't? Well it's hoping that by popping five infrared cameras on the front it'll create a phone unlike anything you've ever used before.

By tracking your head the phone will access menus, open apps and offer features that involve nothing more than simply being able to hold the phone in your hand.


Amazon Fire Phone

Will the UK even get it?

In a sense, all of this is hypothetical at this stage, since Amazon didn't even announce a UK release date or price for the phone at Wednesday's event.

That might be smart. Speaking to our window shoppers in Curry's reveals that for customers to switch to yet another ecosystem for the device in their pocket, it'd need to be flawless.

Whilst three of them where interested about the idea, they quickly pointed out they'd never buy one, they were just 'curious'.

The other two were more positive, with one of them calling it a 'dealbreaker'.

Which leads us to this conclusion: Even if Amazon launches a phone with the 'golden list' it'll still have to be at least as good or better than its direct competitors -- the iPhone 5C, the Nexus 5 and the Moto G. If it isn't, well then Amazon's got itself the mother of all hill climbs.

Could Amazon become the next Apple?

Cast your mind back to 2007 when another relatively niche computing company called Apple unveiled the very first iPhone. There were a lot of skeptics. Many felt that with its umbilical cord connection to the App Store and iTunes, the phone was just about content consumption and not functionality. It couldn't possibly be a good phone as long as its main purpose was to sell you stuff.

Sound familiar? We all know how that story went, and since then it has been proof that when something new and truly revolutionary comes along it takes the dust to settle before we really know what we've got on our hands.

So don't write them off. Amazon is well within reach of creating something truly new -- but at the moment the Fire Phone has a long way to go, without that key list of 'must have' apps they'll need full support -- not least from developers -- but from the public and at $300 on contract, they'll need a hell of a lot of faith as well.