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Whispers about the Amazon phone have been floating around since 2011. Year after year, Amazon was supposed to make the leap into mobile. And yet, for years, nothing.
Now, after three years of hype, the Fire Phone is here, and now that it is, we know why it took so long: eye-tracking technology, a revolutionary interface, and a Firefly search feature that completely reinvents search itself. This is the phone that could shake up the monotony of years of monotonous touchscreen smartphones, one rectangular slab after another, with nothing but minor spec tweaks and gimmicks posing as innovation.
So why should you, the lawyer, stay away?
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Amazon calls it "Dynamic Perspective." Four low-power, infrared cameras on the corners of the phone turn a flat screen into what Wired describes as "a little diorama box," a parallax effect created by shifting your perspective based on where your eyes move. Accelerometers also play a part in the phone's unique interface -- you tilt the phone to turn pages, open menus, etc.
And then there's Firefly, the phone's search feature. Have you heard of Shazam or SoundHound, apps that can recognize the music playing in the background? Firefly is supposed to be that for everything -- food labels, phone numbers, restaurants, etc. It can recognize television shows and music from the soundtrack alone. And of course, if it recognizes an item available through Amazon, it points you to the product listing.
The phone's hardware specs are similar to what you'd find in other companies' flagships (like the Galaxy S5), but the Amazon extras are truly enticing: a year of Amazon Prime ($99 value), which includes two-day shipping and streaming video and music services and unlimited Amazon Cloud Drive storage (great for backing up your smartphone's photos).
Also, if the phone's interface follows in the footsteps of the Kindle Fire tablets' simplistic interface, it'll likely be very easy to use -- a boon to the last few smartphone luddites or those making the switch.
It's AT&T exclusive, at least for now. It's also not cheap, at $200 for the 32GB version and $300 for the 64GB one with a two-year contract.
Also, the phone, which is technically Android-based, runs a heavily-skinned version of the operating system and relies on Amazon's own app store, which, according to Wired, only has 240,000 apps. Apple and Google's stores have five times as many offerings.
Finally, will motion-based phone interfaces catch on? The Nintendo Wii brought motion controls to videogames, and "revolutionized" gaming, but now, the successor device isn't nearly as popular and companies have returned to using controllers and buttons. The Fire Phone may spark a similar fad, or it may not. And if it does, will it last? And all of this is assuming it actually works: what happens if you're on a bus and you hit a bump -- will it turn a page or hang up on someone?
This could be huge. The technology is exciting, the interface is new and shiny, and who knows -- this may completely revolutionize smartphone and tablet interfaces.
Or it could flop. Carrier exclusivity, the high cost, the limited app store, and the gimmicky interface could relegate this to fire sales (hah!) or clearance racks in six months or so.
Either way, do you want to be the one to make the leap, or do you want to be like most lawyers and stick with an iPhone?