Amazon's Fire Phone Enters The Smartphone Wars

Amazon joins Apple and Google in the smartphone business. We’ll look at what everybody wants to build around your phone.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos introduces the new Amazon Fire Phone. (AP)

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos introduces the new Amazon Fire Phone. (AP)

Amazon, out with its Fire phone last week. Six cameras. A 3D-ish screen. And above all, designed to let you shop ‘til you drop. Point this camera at just about any product or movie or let it hear any song and it will identify and sell you that product, pretty much instantly. If that’s what you want in a smartphone, Amazon is ready to deliver. Of course, Apple and Google and Samsung and more have their own dreams for your smartphone. And they’re all about a lot more than phone calls. This hour On Point: smartphones and mobile computing taking over the world.

– Tom Ashbrook


Timothy Lee, Senior Editor at Vox. (@binarybits)

Elizabeth Woyke, Technology journalist for Money Magazine, Fast Company and Inc. Author of the forthcoming book, “The Smartphone: Anatomy of an Industry.” (@ewoyke)

Benedict Evans, mobile analyst for the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. (@BenedictEvans)

From Tom’s Reading List

CNET: Beyond Google: Apple, Samsung, and the quest for control – If Samsung, Apple, and any other players hope to control their own destinies, they’ll ultimately need to take the reins and control their total user experience, or remain at Google’s mercy.

Vox: Google wants to reinvent transportation, Apple wants to sell you fancy headphones – The future’s going to belong to companies with the will and the ability to take big, uncertain risks on big projects.

Wired: Everything you need to know about Amazon’s 3D smartphone – The phone, which is likely to have a 3D display and be exclusive to AT&T in the US, has been described by the New York Times as a project to “close any remaining gap between the impulse to buy and the completed act”.

Book Excerpt From “The Smartphone” by Elizabeth Woyke

1. From the Simon to the BlackBerry

Martin Cooper with Motorola’s Dyna-Tac prototype in 1973 (Martin Cooper) On April 3, 1973, Martin Cooper dialed his way into history. As the general manager of Motorola’s systems division, he had flown to New
York City to unveil a prototype of the world’s first handheld cellphone. The 28-ounce phone, which had a long antenna, a thin body, and a protruding bottom “lip,” making it resemble a boot, isn’t sleek by current standards, but it was revolutionary. Until 1973 a mobile phone required so much power it had to be tethered to a car’s electrical system or an attaché case containing a huge battery. The phone that Cooper and his team had developed—the DynaTAC—fit right in the palm of his hand.

Reporters had gathered at the Hilton hotel in Midtown Manhattan to see the new phone. Cooper was nervous. “There were thousands of parts in the thing; it was hard to keep it running,” he recalls. “We had people at the hotel still working at midnight [the night before] to make sure the phone would be able to make calls.”1 Cooper got lucky. The phone functioned flawlessly that day, both before the press conference when he placed a call from the bustling street in front of a reporter, and later at the event, where he made a number of calls, even letting one young journalist dial her mother in Australia. “At that time, not everyone in the world thought people needed cellphones,” he said, “but the reporters were quite enthusiastic.” Today Cooper is universally acknowledged as the creator of the cellphone and the first person to make a cellphone call in public. His story gave the world a straightforward starting point for understanding cellphone history.

In contrast, there is no consensus on the smartphone’s origins. A number of people think it was born in 2007, when Apple cofounder Steve Jobs proudly showed off the first iPhone at the Macworld conference in San Francisco. But what many people either forget or do not know is that phones with smartphone features had already been on
sale for more than a decade.

Some experts believe smartphones emerged from cellphones when manufacturers began squeezing sophisticated programs and Web browsing features into their handsets. Others say personal digital assistants (PDA), with their touchscreens and open operating systems, were the real progenitors of the smartphone. A third camp thinks pagers and messaging devices, including early BlackBerrys, paved the way by introducing mobile data and e-mail to a broad audience.

The question hangs on how you define a smartphone. Generally speaking, a smartphone distinguishes itself from a cellphone by running on an open operating system that can host applications (apps) written by outside developers. The apps expand the phone’s functionality, giving it computer like capabilities, and can be downloaded and installed by users, not just pre-installed by smartphone companies.

Smartphones also have a number of built-in features that basic phones typically do not, including touchscreens that can sense multiple- finger swipes, high-definition displays, fully Internet-capable browsers, advanced software that automatically grabs new e-mails, and highquality cameras, music, and video players.

It took more than a decade to cram all these features into one handheld device. The earliest smartphones came from IBM, Nokia, Ericsson, Palm, and Research In Motion/BlackBerry. Though these phones pushed boundaries in the 1990s and early 2000s, they were all limited in some way, especially in their Internet and app access.
Most of these early smartphones were not sales hits. Some were famous flops. But all contributed to the smartphones we now carry in our pockets, whether they are iPhones, Android phones, Windows Phones, or BlackBerrys.

Copyright ©2014 by Elizabeth Woyke. This excerpt originally appears in forthcoming book The Smartphone published by The New Press. Reprinted here with permission.

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