Amazon's Fire phone's big hurdle: The learning curve

Companies vying to be the No. 3 mobile platform have to take a few chances, but the problem is there's a learning curve tech buyers need to conquer to give new approaches a chance.

One of the first times I tried the tilting gesture on Amazon's Fire phone I dropped it on the table. My right tilt was a touch too aggressive and it's good that the device has Gorilla Glass 3.

Perhaps I'm uncoordinated. Perhaps you can blame the tilting issues on user error. But the primary takeaway is that the Fire phone requires a learning curve. And that learning curve is going to be tricky to navigate in an hour or less at an AT&T store. Amazon may be on to big things with the Fire phone and its Firefly and Dynamic Positioning features, but you'll need to a few weeks with the device to make a real decision.

First impressions about the Fire phone abound. To properly review the device you should probably use the Fire phone exclusively for a few weeks.

Welcome to what I'll call the No. 3 platform conundrum. The conundrum goes like this: Apple's iOS and Google's Android dominate the marketplace. Both mobile platforms operate similarly — except Android requires more management — but the icon approach prevails. If you want to break into the mobile market and be a solid No. 3 player you need to take a few chances. Mobile OS challengers need a leap frog to entice consumers to make a switch. However, these leap frog features are hard to pull off.

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Let's consider recent efforts by mobile challengers:

  • Microsoft's Windows Phone introduced tiles and a new user experience that I'd argue is more intuitive than the entrenched players. However, there are only so many app developers to go around. Microsoft is No. 3 at least in part because mobile customers needed to learn some new things. Microsoft has the same issue with Windows 8.

  • BlackBerry's OS 10 also introduced a few new gestures that frankly made a lot of sense. App selection was the biggest issue with BlackBerry OS 10, but there was a learning curve too.

  • That recent history colors my initial thoughts about Amazon's Fire phone. Give Amazon props for trying a few new tricks, but this device will require me to tilt, use my head motion to navigate and learn a few finer control points. The sensors in the Fire phone give you a lot of control, but some folks may turn off some of the features with everyday use. The standard phone gestures you use today will work on the Fire phone too.

Add it up and mobile platform challengers are hell-bent on giving us a user experience revolution that few of us want. With any luck Amazon can break the trend, but it's clear that the learning curve may be the company's biggest hurdle.

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