Amazon’s Fire Phone Is a Cautionary Tale for Devs

Earlier this week, Fast Company’s Austin Carr published an exhaustive look at the implosion of Amazon’s Fire Phone, the online retailer’s attempt at entering the high-end smartphone market.

According to Carr, blame for the debacle lies firmly at the feet of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who micromanaged the device’s development. From the very beginning, he wanted the Fire Phone to “wow” customers with “something big and distinctive.” There was just one problem: Amazon, unlike Apple or other smartphone makers, isn’t known for producing premium hardware at a premium price; it’s the e-commerce hub that people visit when they want cheap goods shipped to them overnight.

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“Bezos’s guiding principle for Amazon has always been to start with the needs and desires of the customer and work backward,” Carr wrote. “But when it came to the Fire Phone, that customer apparently became Jeff Bezos.” In order to satisfy his vision, Amazon’s designers and tech pros designed some impressive technology, including a display with 3D effects that requires no special glasses.

Those high-tech features weren’t enough to make the Fire Phone a hit when it arrived on the market in late 2014. The high price and support from just one carrier (AT&T) didn’t help the situation. In October, Amazon announced a $170 million write-off due to the Fire Phone’s poor performance; the device may have sold as few as 35,000 units in its first few weeks of release.

Bezos seems undeterred by the Fire Phone’s initial failure, insisting in interviews that Amazon will spend years if necessary to manufacture a smartphone that succeeds in the marketplace. Wall Street and tech pundits, however, seem more than a little perturbed over what they perceive as Amazon’s lack of focus: rather than concentrate on e-commerce and cloud services—its traditional centers of strength—the company seems intent on becoming a hardware firm, as well.

Tech pros know the industry can’t move forward without big bets. There’s something to be said, however, for also knowing what your customers want and expect from you. Before launching a new project, it always pays to ask:

  • How will this benefit our audience?
  • What gap in the user experience can we fill?
  • Can we strive without overstretching?

For companies without Amazon’s resources, the answers to those questions can mean the difference between success and annihilation.

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Image: Amazon

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