Live Blog: Amazon Launches First Phone In Seattle
“forbes.com/sites/ryanmac/… $AMZN”: Follow ‘s engaging live blog for updates on Amazon’s reveal of a 3Dprimephone(?)
It’s June in Seattle, which means gray skies and clouds are the backdrop for a Wednesday morning when Amazon.com AMZN -1.47% is expected to unveil its long-rumored smartphone. On Wednesday, Jeff Bezos is set to validate the whispers behind the badly-kept secret, something that hasn’t created this much buzz for the online retailer since its founder and CEO teased drone delivery service late last year.
In an event from the city’s Fremont Studios later today, Bezos will likely detail his company’s foray into the hotly-contested mobile handset market, a move that may possibly expand Amazon’s influence over consumers and further pit it against technology giants like Apple AAPL -0.07% and Google GOOGL -0.48%. The presentation, which will not be broadcasted by Amazon, is set to kickoff at 10:30 a.m. PST, and will be followed from Seattle by Forbes in a liveblog below.
Though many have no doubt that Bezos will bring out a mobile device today, there are still plenty of questions on everything from price to user interface to its relationship with the content on subscription service Amazon Prime. Among the most-discussed features of the possible smartphone is a three-dimensional display, which the company will hope can distinguish the device from the offerings of Apple and Samsung. Those two companies combined controlled more than 45% of the global smartphone market in 2013.
If Amazon wants to spoil the smartphone hegemony, it will have to make its phone more than just about new features, analysts told Forbes prior to the event.
“Selling hardware and services is hard to do,” says Forrester analyst Julie Ask. “With mobile phones, consumers aren’t just buying technology. They’re buying solutions and services. Just because there is something funky and new doesn’t guarantee that consumers will buy it.”
Bezos, however, has never been one to heed conventional wisdom. After months of speculation, today’s event should bring some insight into the Amazon CEO’s vision and his future direction for the company he founded nearly 20 years ago.
8:00 a.m. – The site of today’s event is Seattle’s Fremont Studios, which according to its website is a 50,000 square foot facility that has a capacity of just under 3,000 people. The unveiling, only about three miles from Amazon’s main campus, stands in contrast to previous device launches, like those for the original Amazon Kindle reader and the Fire TV set-top box which took place in New York.
Prior to today’s event, Jeff Bezos sent out his favorite children’s book to attendees. That book, Mr. Pine’s Purple House, detailed a story of a man who painted his house purple to distinguish it from the mundane rows of white houses on his block. The book came with a four-sentence note from the Amazon CEO, which cryptically hinted at the device to be shown for the first time today. “I think you’ll agree that the world is a better place when things are a little bit different,” he wrote, with this particular line in the four-sentence memo distinguished by purple font.
The company also released this teaser video for the event last month, which fueled earlier reports that the phone would feature 3D technology.
8:10 – Amazon has yet to officially reveal its device and it’s already made enemies. Last night, T-Mobile CEO John Legere tweeted out his discontent with the company amid reports that AT&T T +0.14% was set to be the exclusive carrier for Amazon’s new smartphone. Interestingly T-mobile is hosting its Uncarrier 5.0 event today in Seattle after moving it from its original Los Angeles location so it could coincide with Amazon’s launch. Many speculated at the time that the two companies would be working together–even despite early denials from the pair–but given Legere’s tweets that much can be denied.
In his tweets, T-mobile’s CEO lamented how carrier exclusivity can be bad for the customer and sometimes for the device maker, referencing the failed Facebook phone that was offered through AT&T last year. That phone, the HTC First with proprietary Facebook Home software, had its prices slashed after one month on the market and was eventually discontinued.
8:25 – As my colleague Parmy Olson pointed out, Amazon will surely want to focus on the vitality of its app store and its growing number of Amazon Prime subscribers. Earlier this week, the company made it a point to announce that it had 240,000 applications for its devices in its Amazon Appstore. That is triple the number of apps from last year. Another key number for the company is the more than 20 million subscribers on its Prime service, which gives users two-day shipping on some items at Amazon.com as well as access to video and music streaming content online. Those figures will go a long way in convincing developers and users alike that the company will not simply be starting from scratch with its potential smartphone.
10:20 – After a wait that lasted about an hour at Fremont Studios, attendees are finally being let in to the event. There are likely less than 500 people in attendance, though the presentation room is packed with media, customers and analysts.
10:39 – As we move closer to the start of the event, Amazon’s stock price is heading back to where it opened today. After being slightly up this morning from its $327.12 opening price, the stock has settled back to more or less where it started the day. At that price, the company has a market capitalization of about $150 billion and CEO Bezos is the 18th richest man in the world with a net worth of $30 billion.
10:40 – Amazon kicks off its event by showing off fan-made videos of those requesting to come to the presentation. Bezos says the company received 60,000 requests from people to be here.
10:41 – Bezos steps on stage and begins by discussing the growth of Amazon Prime, which now has “tens of millions of users.” “Prime isn’t leaky,” he says. “People use it a lot. They love the service and when it comes to renew, they renew.” He also notes that Prime instant video has more than 40,000 videos.
10:46 – Decked out in jeans and a blue blazer, Bezos moves on to discuss devices, which Amazon have worked on for 10 years. The first Kindle reader was launched seven years ago. He shows comments from early doubters including this from The Motley Fool from 2007: “The kindle is here, though it may well be kindling.” He saves a few pot shots for Apple’s iPad.
10:49 – Bezos is now discussing the importance of the customer, a central focus for the company since its founding 20 years ago. How do you gain trust, Bezos asks. “Step one, do hard things well,” says Amazon’s founder. “Step two, repeat.” Among the Amazon customers in the audience is Bezos’ mother.
10:51 – Bezos mentions the word “phone” for the first time. “Can we build a better phone for our most engaged customers?” he asks. “I’m excited to tell you the answers is yes.”
10:53 – Amazon announces its Fire Phone. Bezos lifts the phone over his head and poses for photos.
10:54 – The phone features Gorilla Glass and has a 4.7-inch screen. There is a Quad-core 2.2 GHz Processor and 2GB of RAM. There is also a 13 megapixel camera and optical image stabilization. There’s been no mention of 3D technology… yet.
10:57 – Amazon will offer free unlimited storage for photos taken by the phone’s camera on its Prime service. The crowd cheers.
10:58 – The phone will also come with slick black headphones with flat cables and magnetic earbuds. They will be included with every phone and will not have to be purchased separately.
11:01 – Bezos is now laying out the Amazon Prime content that will be available on the phone. It’s just as expected, the phone will have capacity for movie and television program streaming as well as a direct connection to the new Amazon music streaming service.
11:05 – Amazon shows video of consumers who are annoyed with current forms of customer support with other companies’ devices, before Bezos plugs at Mayday, the Seattle firm’s 24/7 help line.
11:06 – Bezos unveils the phone’s “Firefly” feature which uses the phone’s camera to recognize labels and information on anything from dishwashing detergent to books. After he scans the items with his photo, the products are brought up on an Amazon Marketplace app where they are available for browsing and purchase. Bezos says that Firefly can recognize 100 million items. The phone will have a designated Firefly button on the side of the phone.
11:09 – Firefly also features a Shazam-like feature that is able to take in sound and analyze sound to recognize songs and television shows. Bezos demonstrates this by showing a scene from Game Of Thrones, which the phone recognizes, bringing up links to the specific episode on Amazon Prime and its IMDB page.
11:15 – Various companies have already developed specific applications around Firefly’s image recognizer. For example, MyFitnessPal has used the Firefly software development kit to build an app that will allow users to scan food products and get nutrition information.
11:20 – Finally! Bezos demonstrates the Fire Phone’s “dynamic perspective,” which allows for a 3D display on the device’s screen. No glasses are required. The Amazon CEO, now wearing reading glasses, toggles with the feature using the phone’s maps application and shows a 3D projection of the Empire State Building.
11:26 – Bezos shows how reading capabilities have been changed by the new dynamic perspective. He brings up an article on The Washington Post app (“I just picked this publication,” he says. “I don’t know why I like it.”) The owner of The Post shows how tilting your head while looking at the phone allows for scrolling of the article’s text.
11:31 – Amazon’s stock is up following the Fire Phone announcement as investors seem to like what they see. Shares are up more than 2% to$333.00 in the last hour.
11:32 – Bezos is now demonstrating the phone’s music capabilities, highlighting Justin Timberlake’s “Mirrors.” “I have incredible admiration for anyone that can make a tiny fedora look cool,” he says of the R&B singer. “It’s harder than making a phone.” The music player features an intuitive lyrics feature that brings up a song’s words with karaoke-style scrolling.
11:36 – Amazon began working on dynamic perspective four years ago, according to Bezos. He points to early prototypes where devices were strapped to developers’ heads to track their movements. “It would never be commercially practical,” he says. A low-blow at Google Glass perhaps?
As rumored prior to the event, the phone features four cameras on the corners of the phone which allow for wide, stereo-images and easy tracking of a user’s face. The cameras are able to work in low light and can turn off quickly when not in use to conserve a phones’ battery life. The dynamic perspective software development kit is now available immediately.
11:47 – Though Bezos has not yet discussed price at the event, AT&T, which is set to be the smartphone’s exclusive carrier, had the device already up on its website. With two-year contracts, a 32 GB phone will cost $199 while a $64 GB phone will cost $299. AT&T has apparently taken the pricing information offline already.
11:52 – Amazon’s CEO just confirmed that AT&T will be the exclusive carrier of the Fire Phone. He brings on Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T Mobility, who gushes over the device’s dynamic perspective. “It is wild right now and I think it’s going to get a whole lot better,” he says. He also compliments Firefly and Fire TV on the gadget, using personal anecdotes to illustrate how he’s become accustomed to the phone. “That smartphone is the remote control for your life,” says de la Vega.
11:58 – De la Vega says the phone is now available today and can be acquired through traditional two-year contracts or with AT&T’s “Next” Program, that allows customers to effectively rent the latest gadgets and change your smartphone every year. As the AT&T Mobility chief walks off the stage, Bezos hands him the device he was using during the demo- “the first phone off the line.”
Bezos confirms the earlier pricing information: $199 for a 32 GB model or $27 a month using the Next program. Twelve months of Amazon Prime will be included with the phone for new customers. Existing Prime members will get 12 months free as well.
12:05 – The event concludes after a video of testimonials from early testers. “I hope you will have as much fun using the phone as we did building it,” says Bezos before walking off the stage.
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