Monday, September 8, 2014

Amazon's 3D Fire Phone now 99 cents with a 2 year data plan. A free year of (normally $99) Prime is included also. UPDATE1 for 64GB model price. UPDATE2 for AT&T Next 18 option

Amazon indicated today that the 3D Fire Phone is a key device for them and they've decided to be ultra competitive (the iPhone 6 is due to be announced tomorrow but it won't be a low-cost item nor have most of the features described below), and Apple is finally catching up to Android phones by making the larger phone so many have wanted but which Apple said was not the ideal size, until now. Those who rely on Apple apps should stay with Apple though!

FIRST, an UPDATE on November 2014, 2 months later than this article: - Amazon also made available the UNLOCKED version of the Fire Phone.  For details on the Unlocked phone, which can be used with any service (not tied to AT&T then) so that you can use the phone with better service plans for you, see the article on the updated offer.  This version, without a required data plan, is $199 but includes $99 Prime member for a year (or for an additional year for existing Prime members). [End of Update]

Below, I'm including most of the blog entry I made of the points made about the Fire Phone during their launch, with the original $199 cost now lower by $198, at 99 cents.

  And below that, I'll re-print the pertinent portions of their press release so you can read their new-pricing points, without interpretation.

  NOTE: Some reviews have said that the Fire Phone can't access Google Play for its apps.  However, as with the tablets, the phone has the regular Android Setting to enable installation of apps from "unknown sources" (meaning Non-Amazon store), I'm told (my review copy is late getting here), and that includes 1Mobile appstore, which has over 800,000 Android apps, most from Google, many from Amazon.  Get the apps from Amazon appstore when available there, as they go through heavy testing.

Here are added FIRE PHONE info-updates.

  Amazon still includes the Limited time offer that
offers a full year of Amazon Prime" (normal cost of Prime is $99)
  If you aren't a Prime member, you'll get a full year of Prime with Fire phone. If you already have Prime, we'll extend your membership for a full year."

UPDATE1 - 2:30 PM
  The Fire Phone starts now at $0.99 for 32GB and I received an answer to my question about the 64GB model this afternoon -- it'll be $99, down from $299, with a 2-year monthly data plan with AT&T.  That's for people who expect to store a lot on the phone, even with access to the Cloud storage.

  Essentially then, the phone with 32GB is is 99 cents with Prime also, thrown in (normally $99), with 2 yrs of a monthly data plan.
  And the 64GB model will be $99 (earlier it was $299).  The product pages are being updated.

UPDATE2 - 10:15 PM
Amazon's wording at the end of the Press Release mentions the cost of AT&T's "Next 18" plan (for those buying the phone and AT&T's new plan on a monthly basis and who plan to use only 2GB per month during a month):
' Fire is available exclusively on AT&T - the nation's most reliable 4G LTE network. Fire with 32GB is available for 99 cents with a two-year contract or $0 down and $18.75 per month (for 24 months) with AT&T NEXT 18. '
  The Nitty Gritty - Here is Amazon's Comparison Chart of actual costs for:
    the "Next 18" plan against the normal 2-year plan.
    BOTH require a 24-mo. plan.  However, after 18 mos. on the Next 18 plan,
      you're eligible to a free Update to a new smartphone, and the
    the activation fee is $0 vs the 2-yr plan's no free update plus $40 activation.
    It's a minor difference down the road.

  So, the normal 2-year plan saves almost $5 per month for 2 years, but there's no free update eligibility after 18 mos, and there's an activation charge.

  Phone-buying Reality -- As usual, even with $0 smartphones, one must pay the tax on the actual or normal cost of the phone, in this case $450 (even if paying just $0 or 99 cents for the phone).

The 3D-simulation on Amazon's product-page image is pretty impressive.  Am not placing it here, as eInk Kindle subscribers to the Kindle Edition of the blog can't view video. :-)  Thanks again to the subscribers for continued support of the blog.

Content described during launch is shown below

While the 3D aspects should be novel and fun for awhile, many were looking forward to a good plan but especially since it's been said to be exclusive to AT&T (which seemed a hint they may have worked out a good deal for customers and Amazon with AT&T to get that exclusive).

 The limited-time offer of 1 yr of free Prime made it a better deal than most even at the original pricing, and now the cost of a new, very high-tech smartphone with advanced features is only $1~, coming with a Bonus of free Prime ($99 value) for the first year as well, if you get a 2-year monthly data plan with AT&T.

In addition to the five total front cameras, the back camera uses optical character recognition that can capture and convert text (and will recognize many videos and songs by 'hearing' or 'seeing' them).

  Turns out that the Fire Phone can read an image to get, say, a phone number but, not only that, it can realize that a graphic element confused it and that the area code is not a valid one and then can fetch the information to correct it).

Prime apparently has "tens of millions" of subscribers -- and we know that Prime will be the big factor here, as we've seen with video and music features (along with Kindle book loans and 2-day free shipping) on millions of items.  As you saw in a previous blog entry here, the original 5,000 Kindle books in the Prime Library for free lending of one-book per calendar month has grown to over 500,000.

Opening PR at the launch reminded us that Foresee and YouGov branding charts both list Amazon as No. 1 in customer service.

The Fire Phone with FIREFLY scanning
Claims on slides shown, for the most part:  (I'll double space these after editing, and also highlight a few aspects that were more interesting to me, for easier reading.)
. Rubberized frame, Gorilla Glass, aluminum buttons.

. Premium materials, scratch resistant

. 4.7" inch IPS LCD HD display

. Quad core 2.2 Ghz processor, Adreno 330 graphics processor, and 2 GB of RAM.

. Designed to be "Beautiful, comfortable, durable"

. Injection-molded steel connectors

. Focus on making it Better than usual for outdoor viewing

. Great imaging hardware
      with 13 MP rear-facing camera, f/2 5-element lens, optical image stabilization

. "Don't miss the shot" -- instant fast access to camera from a button.

. Free Unlimited Photo Storage

. Dual stereo speakers (Stereo audio in Landscape), Virtual surround sound, Dolby Digital Plus

. Free Mayday Help/Support feature -- (video support by customer reps and AT&T reps within 15 seconds when you need help) is included.  You see the rep, who does not see you but you can hear each other, and the reps can not only show you how to do something, they can do it for you.)

. You can watch material on HDTV, 2nd screen, Miracast, plus Xray for movies and tv

. Flat cables, earphones included

. Netflix, HBO Go, ESPN, Youtube, and Showtime apps are included and ready to go.

. includes of course the new Prime Music feature (free for members) -
      over 1 million songs with unlimited free streaming.

. More than a few Music apps and services

. "Semantic Boosting" helps to get the phone number right by eliminating invalid numbers.

. Firefly scanning feature "scrapes" the image for relevant info [via optical character recognition], compressing a large image file to a smaller one with only small bits of info.  That helps the phone send the info to its cloud service to process the image and get appropriate info or answers quickly.

. Reminder about the X-ray feature, now using Firefly also.  As with tablets, if it recognizes the show, it pulls up info on the actors, specific episode, and scene via Amazon's IMDB database.  I expect this works with Amazon Prime but not with Netflix and Hulu Plus etc., as they control the stream with Prime video.

    HOWEVER, the Firefly scanning feature has had a lot of training by Amazon and itself can "recognize" movies, TV episodes, music, and get info for X-Ray.  I've added Amazon's description of Firefly functions at the bottom of this post, as it is a very impressive feature, activated by the press of a physical button on the phone.

. Firefly recognizes a hundred million different items in real-world situations.

. The image changes as you move your phone (or head) and perspective.

. A MAP application was shown next, in 3D

. They zoomed into the Empire State Building image, and it's said this looks a lot better than previous attempts at 3D on similar devices

. Various web sites are very impressed with the 3D implementation.  Most writers I read had been skeptical about it based on previous attempts by other companies.

. In the web browsing -- "auto scroll" - you can scroll by tilting the phone (I'm not sure I'd want that, but they pointed out that can be turned off when wanted, which is what I would do.)

. You can pin other apps to the app grid.  They have the Carousel with latest apps accessed at the top.

. Get in and out of apps with widgets (shown on slide) without having to load up a full app

. Music app.  As with the tablets, we can see the lyrics synchronized (highlighting current line) with songs for which they received the rights for that.
      Song info is in one panel - lyrics in a panel to the right.

. Games: You can tilt the phone to look at different perspectives in a game.

. "Dynamic Perspective" - They started working on this 4 years ago and had prototypes working in the first week.

. The phone has a wider range of view for the front camera to cover the area needed for tracking head movement and whatever else needed to make the 3D simulation work well.

. At least two of the Fire Phone's four corner cameras and center camera can find your eyes, creating stereovision.

. To have it work in the dark, they added infrared lights, one in each camera.

. Dynamic Perspective sensor system -- "uses four ultra-low power specialized cameras -- the smallest globally shuttered cameras in existence -- plus four infrared LEDs for invisible illumination, real-time computer vision algorithms, and a custom graphics engine rendering at 60 fps" [frames per second]."

. They used "millions of images from thousands of faces from all around the world" while testing this.

. While trying to find the user's head and eyes for perspective-use, the cameras -could- during development be fooled by another head that happened to be in the picture (as in an image on a t-shirt).  They say they fixed the usual problems with seeing multiple-faces in that case.

. Developers can develop 3D apps for viewing homes while shopping, etc.

. You can silence your ringer for 3 hours.  After that, it turns back on.
      This would help me since I forget to turn it back on and then can't use a landline to call my cellphone to find out where it is :-)

. Price: Now 99 cents for 32GB phone (to be $99 for a 64GB model), with a 2 year monthly data plan, and this includes a limited-time offer of a free one-year Prime membership, w/ 2 yr contract and same Prime deal.

Addendum: More about Firefly and what it does (from product page)
  You just press the physical button on the side of the Fire Phone to "take action on"
' Phone numbers, web, and email addresses
Firefly identifies printed text on posters, magazines, and business cards -- make calls, save new contacts, send emails, and visit websites without typing long addresses.

Movies & TV
Firefly recognizes over 240,000 movies and TV episodes, and 160 live TV channels.  Firefly uses X-Ray, powered by IMDb, to show information on actors, plot details, and related content -- add titles to your Watchlist or download to watch later.

Firefly recognizes songs so you can access artist information, play related songs, download albums direct to your Fire phone, or add them to your Wish List to purchase later on.  With Firefly-enabled apps like iHeartRadio and StubHub, you can create radio stations based on an identified artist, or even find tickets for their next show.

Over 70 million products
Recognize household items, books, DVDs, CDs, video games, and more.  Access product details, add items to your Wish List, or order on Amazon straight from your Fire phone. '

Amazon's 3D FIRE PHONE at 99 cents with a 2-year plan is available here

From today's press release
Title: Amazon Fire Phone Now 99 Cents with Two-Year Contract

Date(s): 8-Sep-2014 11:11 AM
Plus, one year of Prime membership included
Free unlimited cloud storage for photos
World-class customer support with Mayday--24x7, 365 days a year
32GB Storage--Standard
SEATTLE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Sep. 8, 2014-- (NASDAQ: AMZN)--Dynamic Perspective, Firefly, world-class customer support with Mayday, free unlimited cloud storage for photos, 32GB of storage--and, for a limited time, customers get 12 months of Prime membership with Fire phone, which includes unlimited streaming of tens of thousands of movies and TV episodes from Prime Instant Video, access to over a million songs to download or stream from Prime Music, over 500,000 books to borrow from Kindle Owners' Lending Library and free two-day shipping on tens of millions of items. Now there's another great reason to buy Fire--it's just 99 cents with a two-year contract. Customers can purchase Fire on [and at AT&T stores nation wide].
"Fire is now 99 cents with a two-year contract, plus customers get one full year of Prime included," said Ian Freed, Vice President, Amazon Devices. "With access to all of the Prime content, Mayday, 32GB of memory and free unlimited cloud storage for photos, plus the exclusive Dynamic Perspective and Firefly features, Fire is another example of the value Amazon delivers to customers."
See what Amazon Fire customers are saying:
  • "The best part of the phone is the integration with Prime - I've switched all of my iTunes music over to Amazon Music and have bought a few albums from my phone. The sound from the included headphones is amazing. I've watched some movies and read some books - all synced to my Kindle Fire HDX and the movies with my Fire TV."
  • "Mayday: I feel this truly separates this phone from every other phone in the market. It's like having someone available 24x7 to help you out with your phone...and, there is no charge for that 'ever.'"
  • "Love it, better than the iPhone I had, Better pictures and better screen...My wife is switching from her iPhone 5 to Fire since she has checked out my FIRE."
  • "I've had three Kindle Fire tablets, and this Fire phone hooks seamlessly to their ecosystem of books and videos, which I use heavily in my professional work so that's important to me."
  • "The Firefly feature is fun, and the camera takes fabulous pictures and videos."
  • "If you're an Amazon Prime user, it can't get better than this. The support for the Amazon ecosystem is amazing."
Fire is the only smartphone with Dynamic Perspective and Firefly, two breakthrough technologies that allow you to see and interact with the world through a whole new lens. Fire features an advanced, 13MP rear-facing camera with backside illumination, LED flash, 5-element f/2.0 lens, Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), and high dynamic range (HDR) capabilities for beautiful, crisp photos, even in low-light conditions. Fire also includes a 2.1MP front-facing camera, and photos taken with Fire receive free, unlimited cloud storage.
Additionally, the Amazon Appstore has seen tremendous growth with the rate of app submissions to the Appstore more than doubling in the weeks following the Fire phone launch in the U.S. Recent additions include: Fly Delta, Bank of America, At Bat, Tetris Blitz, Uno With Friends, Venmo, and World Series of Poker as well as the tens of thousands of others already available for Fire - FacebookFacebook Messenger, Flixster, Instagram, Pandora, PinterestSpotify, StubHub, Twitter, and WhatsApp. Customers are also enjoying the use of Dynamic Perspective within apps and games--3 of the top 7 downloaded apps and games, incorporate features of Dynamic Perspective.
In the U.S., Fire is available exclusively on AT&T  - the nation's most reliable 4G LTE network. Fire with 32GB is available for  99 cents with a two-year contract or $0 down and $18.75 per month (for 24 months) with AT&T NEXT 18.
[ End of the press release segment ]

Note you can also buy it from AT&T at one of their stores.  But when buying a device, many prefer to buy from Amazon.

Again, in addition to the 32GB model at 99 cents with a 2-year data plan with AT&T, Amazon is pricing the 64GB model at $99 ($200 off the opening price in July), although the product page isn't updated for that yet.

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  1. Well, I saw this, and commented on it elsewhere. It had totally slipped my mind that tomorrow is Apple's iPhone 6 event (;grin). I had wondered who initiated this price "adjustment": Amazon or AT&T. Given tomorrow's Apple announcement -- now I'm wondering even more -- I particularly now want to know which carriers are going to carry the iPhone 6. One scenario says that if Apple's arrangements with AT&T for the iPhone 6 are not to AT&T's taste, then this $0.99 price could be initiated by AT&T as a kind of "payback". I don't put too much credence in that. More likely is that the original Fire Phone price of $199 was insisted upon by AT&T to align with pricing on all their other flagship phones. Amazon would've preferred something like $0.99, but AT&T wouldn't go along.

    By all reports FP sales have been pretty dismal -- so I can see Amazon now coming back at AT&T, and saying See -- so let's price it the tried and true Bezos' way. The timing is still curious, and not attractive to my way of thinking. I wonder how the FP would have been reviewed if initially it had come to market at $0.99?

    Carriers are moving away from subsidized pricing to zero down monthly payment plans (for 24 months) for new phones. One recent analysis of these plans priced a $200 subsidized flagship iPhone at $27/month, which works out to an unlocked purchase price for the phone of $650. The equivalent deal (according to today's PR) for the Fire Phone is $18.75 which works out to a FP unlocked price of $450 -- which I believe is about a $200 reduction in the outright purchase price of the Fire Phone (I checked on Amazon, and today the unsubsidized price is $450 -- down from $650 at announcement). Also tear-downs of the FP are estimating that it costs about $205 to make (I take that with a bit of grain of salt :grin)!

    I wonder how this is going to make those who did $199 subsidized deals feel? A few years back Steve Jobs reduced the price of an iPhone dramatically less than a year after introduction to much customer bad feeling.

    One other bright spot in the PR is on the app front: they appear to be getting some traction among developers though it's early days yet.

    1. Edward, I read one report on a tech site that said customers with the early Fire Phone could call them, re the price difference.

      More on AT&T and Fire Phone cost in the next Comment.

  2. I must agree with Edward that (with hindsight) Amazon would have had a much stronger launch with today's lower prices. I am afraid it may be too late now. The Apple reality distortion field may be weakening but it is real enough and I have to think lots of people are going to run out tomorrow and buy whatever Apple puts out there tomorrow (I'm waiting for the new iPads myself ). The Fire Phone price drop is not likely to slow that down even a little bit. But they had to do it.

    1. And indeed iPhone 6 is very impressive.

    2. Tom, the iPhone 6 should be somewhat impressive for $200 for the 16 GB model ! And the larger iPhone 6 Plus starting at $300 for 16GB. But the 64GB model (no 32GB one) will be $400, if getting a 2-year contract. Too rich for what it offers, for me. I love my Nokia Lumia 1020 with the 40 Megapixel camera that takes terrific exposures and has dense images that can be zoomed in on for viewing or editing. It does more tan I need, for the $99 I paid for the 32 GB device..
      I do like that the iPhone 6's now have up-front visible options to copy/paste etc. I had been surprised so many things were hidden and not intuitive before, considering Apple's focus...

    3. Edward and Tom, re the lower pricing Amazon should have had available, at least for one Fire Phone model -- our thoughts were confirmed by an article at Business Insider:
      "How AT&T Ruined Amazon's Chance Of Selling Its Fire Smartphone."
      --- "When AT&T found out about Amazon and HTC's plan for a second phone, it allegedly threatened to withdraw its support for the original high-end model, Efrati's sources said."

      Also, with Amazon's phone there was no easy updating from an earlier phone by the same maker and people wrote on forums they were waiting for their current 2-yr period to be over and of course with only AT&T involved, a lot of people just said No to that. The time element is still a factor. Most people already have phones - and usually upgrade to the same type of phone.


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