With 'no more' than 35,000 devices sold, Amazon Fire Phone struggles in 'purpose purgatory'

With 'no more' than 35,000 devices sold, Amazon Fire Phone struggles in 'purpose purgatory'

Summary: Latest research figures suggest Amazon sold a meager 35,000 handsets of its flagship smartphone since it first launched. A tepid debut, or a frosty winter ahead?

Without a purpose, how well can Amazon expect its debut phone to sell? (Image: ZDNet/CBS Interactive)

Ask anyone who has used an Amazon Fire Phone one key question: "What's the point of it?"

Amazon's debut smartphone, the Fire Phone, offered me only one worthwhile reason to buy it: a technological tax write-off. But even after about a month after I shelled out the $650 for the phone out-of-contract, there's no way to shake the lingering feeling that it's still a financial dead weight in my pocket.

It seems others have been less foolish with their purse strings.

The latest data, published first by The Guardian, suggests "no more" than 35,000 devices have been sold by the retail giant in the past two months, according to combined Chitika and comScore data.

By comparison, Apple sold nine million iPhones during the first weekend of its launch, while Samsung sold 11 million devices during its debut month.

Even the sinking ship of former phone giant Nokia, which in its last set of results before it was snapped up by Microsoft, reported 8 million Lumia smartphones sold during one three-month period.

Make no mistake: Amazon's debut into the smartphone market has been tepid at best, and likely for one reason. The Guardian's Charles Arthur said it straight-up: "The Fire Phone looks more like a curiosity than a barnstormer."

The Fire Phone is stuck in "purpose purgatory." It doesn't offer any defining features that might compel the ordinary smartphone user to want it.

Yes, it has the Dynamic Perspective display that wows the user (at first, but it quickly wears off) with a three-dimensional display effect. And it has Mayday for near-instant video-based customer service. And it has Firefly, which is designed to scan items in the user's surroundings and match them with an online retail e-commerce plug.

But it doesn't offer anything practical for potential customers to dive into a technology, which is becoming more and more personal to our everyday lives.

A smartphone isn't just a messaging or calling gadget. In it, we hold our photos, our music, videos, and emails, documents and Web favorites. And though the Fire Phone offers all of these things, it's unchartered territory for anyone who might consider switching away from the comfort of their iPhone, Android phone, Windows Phone, or even their BlackBerry.

Amazon has two more problems it has to weed out:

Where's the revenue? Until potential users work out exactly what the phone is for, its smartphone unit will remain a razor-thin profit generator — if any, whatsoever. According to tear-down experts iFixit, each device costs about $205 to build. With a price tag of $199 from AT&T or about $650 without a contract, the final estimated figures for revenue return could technically leave the company in a deficit. That said, it's almost certain that not all Fire Phone buyers would have bought the AT&T version — I certainly didn't. 

A gateway drug for other Amazon services: With Firefly and Mayday — two features touted as flagship features for the device, it quickly becomes apparent that the phone itself is just a gateway for other Amazon services. The phone wants you to plug in your social accounts, and aims to tie your phone to your online retail account — the first such device to offer this at its core. But how many people buy physical items and products on their phones? Unless Amazon can market this feature and change how we fundamentally buy things online, this progressive approach may not take off.

The bottom line: it's a gimmicky device. And until Amazon can figure out how to translate functionality and substance over gimmicks and features, the Fire Phone will remain as a public experiment for a technology giant that's spreading itself too thin.

Topics: Amazon, Mobility, Smartphones

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  • Fire Phone: A smartphone without a purpose?

    My belief is that not one person can offer a viable, worthwhile answer... without either laughing or lying(!). What do you think?
    • Look

      Jeff Bezos runs Amazon like a non-profit because he seems to spend everything the company makes and then some on new ventures.

      I think all the articles labeling him the next Steve Jobs went to his head and he's trying way too hard to be "That Guy" but, at some point in time Jobs must have sold his soul because very few people can hold a crowd like he could and Bezos is not one of the few.

      The point is, just because Amazon could make a phone didn't mean they should. They cannot even get enough apps to support the tablet so, the phone is sure to drown in its own inadequacy.
    • To be honest

      There wasn't a single thing about this phone that screamed, to me at least, that I had to have it. If I wanted an Android phone, I'd get an actual Android phone. This phone is more limited than a Windows Phone, something that gets bashed for being 'so limited'.

      The problem with the Amazon phone is that it doesn't have a single feature that makes it stand out THAT PEOPLE WANT.
      Michael Alan Goff
    • We needed another phone option like we need a 2nd butthole

      It kinda reminds me of when a new Mexican restaurant opens up here in San Antonio, Texas. Yeah, THAT is what we were missing.
  • I think

    Your too focused on popularity contest. The Fire Phone has interesting and innovative features. As a tech writer your too worried about market share baloney.
    Sean Foley
    • Marketshare

      As with any industry, sales validate the companies effort. Maybe it does have some neat features, but as the article states it's only real leg up on the competition is the fact that it is a gateway to Amazon services, something that people obviously don't need on their phone.
      • Yep!

        If he put it on a carrier like T-Mobile with unlimited data plans it might have worked out but, AT&T with their gimped Data plans is a big no no for a media company.
        • T-Mobile? Really? T-Mobile?

          You can go days with no signal. Worst carrier ever.
    • The other point is good

      Even if you ignore the proof by popularity fallacy, the "What's the point of it?" question is valid. I can't think of any reason that would make me want an Amazon phone.
      Buster Friendly
      • Having previously owned a 'fire' tablet ...

        ... I can think of several reasons NOT to own one.
        • No Fire

          I concur. If the phone is as cut off from the Google world as is the FIRE then it would be nothing but phone to me.
          As far as I am concerned I would have been better off getting a Samsung Note rather than a Kindle Fire. The difficulty of living in Google land makes the Fire little more than an entertainment device and Prime Videos don't justify it.
    • Grammar Police

      You're = you are
    • Spelling, Sean, Spellng!

      "You're"! Both times!
      • Spelling...

        and SpellIng...

        (Noticed Jmadison's post on same subject only after sending my post and there is no facility to edit and/ordelete one's own posts - pathetic for ZDNet, as has been said many times. Why not switch the discussion section to Disqus?)
  • A better use of resources

    Instead of trying to trying to be Microsoft or Google, maybe Amazon could focus on making their Audible app for Windows Phone actually work.
    Sir Name
    • @Sir Name --- at some point you do have to ask:

      as much as you might like windows phone, can you not find a iPhone or android based one that satisfies you? The apps _are_ an issue. Not raw count, but quality and availability (which should tend to be greater based on popularity).
      For example, I perfer a desktop gnu/linux OS to windows. But at the end of the day, overall there just aren't the specific applications I need at work. So I throw in the towel and use windows 7 as the general purpose desktop, and linux when its the needed tool. (native android and embedded linux work and servers).
      • For me, my next phone is likely an old WP

        I'd like a camera that matches the 1020 in quality. So far, the only choice for that IS the 1020.
        Michael Alan Goff
      • re:

        No, iOS and Android would be too much of a step down for me. I'm a software developer who works exclusively on the MS stack. I use the latest MS OSes and love the way WP integrates with everything else I use. Cortana is nothing short of a revelation. My stepson bought the latest Samsung Galaxy because of all the hype and has constant problems, not the least of which is battery life that is pathetic compared to my Lumia 1520 or my wife's 920.

        I'm not aware of any apps that I'd like for my phone that aren't available and all of the ones I use work great - except Audible. Their WP app is the worst thing I've ever seen. Take a look at some of the customer reviews of it, everyone is having the same problems and many users are cancelling their Audible memberships because nothing is being done to fix the problems. By contrast, OverDrive is a somewhat similar app that allows you to listen to audio books for free from your local library. It works great, especially with WP 8.1.
        Sir Name
  • A couple minutes spent reading about the phone upon its release,

    then seeing the un-subsidized price and the AT&T exclusive at $199? Who could possibly think this has a chance?
  • What happened to that Facebook phone ...

    ... it failed. And people routinely use their pnones for FB.

    I can't imagine many of Amazon's most loyal fans would do a lot of buying on a mobile.

    And on a tiny screen, it would be almost impossible to find ways to get around the Amazon razor-wire fence - it was tough enough to escape Amazon on a tablet!