Amazon's Fire smartphone success depends on developers

Amazon has some inventive features in its Fire smartphone, but the company needs developers to gravitate the Dynamic Perspective and Firefly SDKs.

SEATTLE — Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos outlined features such as Firefly, which identifies objects around you, and dynamic perspective, which creates 3D effects by tracking a user's head movement in real-time, and quickly noted that both of those tools have software development kits (SDKs) available pronto.

There's a good reason for that: Fire's features, which are "a bit different," will either thrive or dive based on what developers do with them. Bezos knows that developers will make or break the Fire smartphone.

firefly sdk

Some app developers such as iHeart Radio and MyFitnessPal are already playing ball. However, Amazon will need developers to cook up specific uses for its 3D effects, tilting and Firefly features. Amazon's technology behind the Fire phone's latest features are custom to the device and have nothing to do with Android. 

What Bezos is specifically looking for is small touches developers can add and differentiate Fire from Android and iOS devices.

"We're looking for those things that people do everyday and wish they could be easier," said Bezos. Bezos was referring to how the Fire smartphone made things like sending photos over messaging more easily, but the mantra applies to developers.

Given the importance of developers, it's no surprise that Bezos talked a lot about computer science. If you're going to woo developers you need some whiz-bang tech talk.

Some key items:

  • Firefly recognizes books, DVDs, QR codes, CDs, URLs, games and bar codes to name a few. Firefly is essentially Shazam for everything. Not surprisingly, these things will be compiled into a history that can become a shopping list. There are actions for every item. The sell for developers is that they can integrate tools to better monetize their wares.

  • Dynamic positioning could improve everything from Web sites to navigation of apps. Amazon spent a lot of time focusing on things like z depth, choosing what heads mattered and developing algorithms that use four cameras to recognize people. "We got really good at tracking faces and finding heads in real time," said Bezos, referring to computer vision.

  • Bezos talked about Amazon's efforts in the lab and elsewhere to develop its head-tracking system that anchors dynamic positioning. "We have to know where the user's head is all the time, in real time," said Bezos. "We started working on this four years ago." Bezos showed some early prototypes, including one that looked a bit like Google Glass. Computer vision "is super hard in the real world," said Bezos.

Of Amazon's two primary Fire innovative features, Firefly seems like a no-brainer for developers. Firefly should enable better monetization assuming Amazon can grab some market share. Developers may take a wait-and-see approach with dynamic positioning. It's unclear whether developers will want to jump into the 3D effect pool first unless they are focused on gaming.