June 19th, 2014 by Maria Minsker

In an announcement that surprised basically no one, Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 4.56.54 PMJeff Bezos introduced the Amazon Fire during a presentation in Seattle yesterday. The phone is designed for “Amazon’s most engaged customers,” and is the company’s first stab at competing with Apple and Android devices, he said. With fancy features including a 13 MP camera sensor, unlimited photo storage, and Dynamic Perspective display (which mimics a 3D display by tracking your head movements to show content at the optimal viewing angle), it sounds like a great gadget. Its coolest feature, and the one that’s generating the most buzz, is Firefly–a tool that’s sort of like Siri, but with a lot more shopping and a lot less talking.

Firefly is easy to access with a designated button on the side of the phone, and once it’s called up, the service can see barcodes, hear music, and recognize most physical products sold on Amazon. It’s got over 100 million items in its data bank, and can help consumers purchase every single one with just a few taps. If you’re watching a How I Met Your Mother marathon and engage Firefly, for example, it will listen to the audio, determine where the audio is from, and send you to a page where you can buy an entire season on DVD. The device is not a phone; it’s a “shopping machine that calls itself a phone,” Quartz’ Dan Frommer wrote.

So what does this mean? It means that Amazon might get even better at doing what it already does best. “Firefly will make it even easier to pursue a habit that has proliferated in the smartphone age and driven brick-and-mortar stores crazy, ” CNN’s Doug Gross writes. “A user will presumably be able to walk into a store, pick out a product they like, zap it with Firefly and, within a second or two, find out whether it’s available on Amazon for less money. (And then maybe even order it right there from their phone.) ”

But it’s not all bad news. Critics argue that it’ll be a long time before the device becomes popular enough to be a threat, largely due to its price ($199 with a two-year AT&T contract for a 32GB model) and the limited availability of popular apps. The phone doesn’t support apps from the Google Play or Apple App stores, so Fire users are left with only Amazon apps until developers start actively building apps for it. And of course, there’s the obvious caveat: the phone makes it easier to shop, but at just one store. Just one Web site, rather.

Already getting mixed reviews, the Fire phone could be a hit or a miss for Amazon. Still, its release emphasizes the urgency with which brands should be building their m-commerce strategies. With targeted couponing, location-based marketing, and other deeply personalized experiences, brands can combat showrooming. The birth of mobile shopping doesn’t spell certain death for brick and mortar stores, but it does call for major changes. Who knows? Maybe the launch of Amazon Fire could be the push that brands need. 

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