Amazon's Failed Fire Phone Was Too Creepy for Customers

Image credit: Amazon

In August of 2014, I reviewed, in healthy detail, the Amazon Fire Phone. Even though it was missing some key features, like Google Maps and hardware encryption, I found it to be a solid smartphone with good looks and a good looking GUI.

What quickly doomed the Fire Phone was the creepy factor of a feature called Firefly, and it doomed the product from the beginning. It never got off the ground. And so, as our Jeff Gamet noted, "Amazon Hangs Up on Fire Phone."

At issue was the design philosophy of Amazon in terms of customer convenience at all cost. Recall that, previously, Amazon found it expedient to build a tablet called the Amazon Fire HD because major use modes for a tablet have been reading books and shopping. And so because smartphones were so popular, Amazon tried to extend the convenience-at-any-cost philosophy to a smartphone because a smartphone is always with us and a tablet is not.

What an opportunity—or so it seemed.

Wrong Thinking

That idea turned out to be wrong. The reason is related to the difference we've seen between iPhone and iPad sales. Precisely because the iPhone is always with us, it's a very personal thing. We trust it with the things we do that require it to always be with us.

For example, it's not critical that a large tablet that spends a lot of time on the desk or coffee table have our credit card numbers or Apple Pay. But a smartphone, being always at hand, especially when we're out and about, needs to be very trustworthy.

Apple has shown that it has a very fine sense of taste and intuition about how we as customers relate to the iPhone. Convenience at any cost is an Amazon thing, but not an Apple thing. Instead, Apple focuses on design and trust combined with making hard technical things easy to do. In other words, building a superb user experience has a different set of values than a maniacal emphasis on simply selling things.

Only One Chance For a First Impression

When the Fire Phone launched, Amazon made a big thing out of the Firefly feature. Jeff Bezos assumed that customers would be delighted to see how his Fire Phone could reduce the friction of buying stuff. The press picked up on this and evaluated the Firefly feature. VentureBeat wrote: "Amazon's Fire Phone might be the biggest privacy invasion ever (and no one's noticed)." To quote:

Amazon is a fascinating company, and the Amazon Fire Phone is a fascinating machine for connecting you with stuff to buy. It’s probably also the biggest single invasion of your privacy for commercial purposes ever.

Of course, Firefly could be turned off, but the damage was already done. Potential customers got the idea that going to extremes to make purchases easy was not only an invasion of their privacy, but it was an insult to their judgment about when and why to buy things. They were being treated like children in a candy store.

What we learned from this is what Spotify learned last week. "Spotify Just Learned the Hard Way About Customer Trust." Makers of high tech products that, as we have learned, pry deeply into our lives, only get one chance at the outset to set the tone for their products. One misstep or one inadvertent phrase in this era of instantaneous social consciousness can be lethal.

Amazon had its set of values, and the customers had theirs. They conflicted, and the Fire Phone flamed out in the marketplace.

We don't always appreciate the tremendous attention Apple pays to adroitly managing the message, based on great taste and judgment, until something like the Fire Phone comes along to compare with.