Skip to main content

Amazon Fire Phone is a shopping mall

By Paul Saffo
June 20, 2014 -- Updated 2014 GMT (0414 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Paul Saffo: Amazon isn't playing catch-up, it's changing the game in mobile space
  • Saffo: Fire Phone shifts focus of mobile devices to satisfying our shopping urges
  • He says features of Fire Phone will turn stores into de facto showrooms for Amazon
  • Saffo: Get ready, the next phase will be "augmented reality" shopping

Editor's note: Paul Saffo is a technology forecaster based in Silicon Valley. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Amazon's new Fire Phone isn't a phone. It's a shopping mall. Not that boring shopping mall slowly dying on the edges of suburban America, but a gorgeous mall with infinite selection and endless opportunities for entertainment, from books to movies and everything in between.

The price starts at $199 with a two-year contract, or $649 without a contract. The Fire Phone may well give its competitors a run for the money.

Malls are social spaces, and so is Fire Phone. Its five cameras and assorted sensors are exactly what is needed to create immersive interactive experience. And what better thing to socialize around than using it to identify new products, deals and scoops? The only piece missing from Amazon's new mall is food, but you can be sure that soon, there will be an Amazon Fresh truck waiting around the corner or an Amazon aerial drone hovering just over the horizon ready to deliver your order.

Paul Saffo
Paul Saffo

Amazon is pretty late to the mobile space, and if Fire Phone was just another well-designed mobile device, it wouldn't have a prayer of catching up to Apple or Google. But Amazon isn't playing catch-up, it's changing the game by shifting the focus of mobile devices to what it does best: Satisfying our seemingly endless desire to buy stuff.

Actor Keefe Brasselle and his wife, Norma, wear 3-D glasses at the 1952 premiere of "Bwana Devil" in Hollywood, California. Discomfort associated with the glasses has been a problem throughout the history of 3-D entertainment, but the technology is finally going glasses-free. Actor Keefe Brasselle and his wife, Norma, wear 3-D glasses at the 1952 premiere of "Bwana Devil" in Hollywood, California. Discomfort associated with the glasses has been a problem throughout the history of 3-D entertainment, but the technology is finally going glasses-free.
The many ups and downs of 3-D
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
The many ups and downs of 3-D The many ups and downs of 3-D

Google is still struggling with creating a shopping strategy for physical products, and Apple is little more than an elegant specialty store in cyberspace. In contrast, Amazon pioneered online shopping and has reinvented the shopping experience time and again. Fire Phone is just the latest chapter in that long history.

A crucial feature in the Fire Phone is Amazon's Firefly technology, which turns the phone into a one-touch information source for anything that can be viewed with the phone's many cameras. You see a cool jacket on an actor in a movie -- capture the image and Amazon will find it for sale. If you hear a song you like, grab a sample and Amazon will tell you the artist and offer to sell you a copy.

Amazon CEO debuts the 'Fire' smartphone

Or, next time you are at your favorite suburban mall, snap a picture of a product in a physical store and Amazon will offer it to you for less. This may be the most diabolically disruptive aspect of the Fire Phone.

While Apple and other companies are building out physical stores at great cost as part of their shopping strategy, Firefly allows Amazon to invade every store in every mall on the planet and turn it into a de facto showroom for Amazon.

This will drive retailers crazy. Expect to hear much about how Fire Phone is going to kill physical shopping in the days to come. I wouldn't be surprised if some stores attempt to ban Fire Phone entirely.

Once upon a time shopping was mainly "bricks-and-mortar:" an exclusively physical retail experience. After Amazon appeared on the Web, shopping evolved to "bricks-and-clicks:" an expanded shopping reality that provided shoppers the option of visiting either a physical space or a virtual space. Doomsayers proclaimed the end of physical stores, but while online shopping has been profoundly disruptive, the physical shopping experience evolved to coexist with shopping in cyberspace.

We are now moving from "bricks-and-clicks" to "bricks-in-clicks:" a world where the line between physical and virtual not only blurs, but becomes a two-way conversation.

Getting competitive pricing with your phone camera is just the start. The next phase will be "augmented reality" shopping. Want to see if that elegant lounge chair really fits in your living room? Select your chair, hit a button and it appears on your screen as if it were actually in your room. You can even walk around the chair, viewing it from multiple perspectives. Sounds futuristic, but iPhone and Android users can experience this today with apps like Sayduck. With five cameras and multiple sensors, Fire Phone will be able to do this with even greater fidelity.

Amazon's Fire Phone is being released at a moment when we are seeing the rapid growth of the so-called "Internet of Things," where billions of physical objects from toothbrushes to satellite sensors are being connected to the Internet.

Before long, shoppers wandering into a physical store won't use their phones to merely take a picture of an object; they will have a phone-mediated conversation with that object. And when that happens, Jeff Bezos will probably reinvent things again.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1938 GMT (0338 HKT)
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1225 GMT (2025 HKT)
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1128 GMT (1928 HKT)
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1241 GMT (2041 HKT)
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2211 GMT (0611 HKT)
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
September 12, 2014 -- Updated 2218 GMT (0618 HKT)
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1721 GMT (0121 HKT)
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1730 GMT (0130 HKT)
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
September 11, 2014 -- Updated 1327 GMT (2127 HKT)
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
September 10, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT