Amazon’s recent mapping-app acquisition is just one of the features needed to make it big in the smartphone world. Photo: Ariel Zambelich/Wired
Reports of an imminent Amazon smartphone are piling up so quickly, it would seem the new device is all but inevitable. Last Friday, Bloomberg reported that Amazon was readying a smartphone to live beside its already successful Kindle Fire tablet, and on Wednesday the Wall Street Journal reported that the handset is already being tested, suggesting actual prototypes exist.
According to sources within Amazon’s Asian hardware partners, the Journal reported the phone could head into production later this year or early next year. And if the Kindle Fire is to serve as a reliable example, then an Amazon handset should be immediately competitive in the larger smartphone ecosystem — just look at how quickly the Fire overwhelmed the Android tablet market.
Thanks to the power of its own homepage promotions and sheer consumer reach, Amazon shouldn’t have any trouble evangelizing its next foray into mobile hardware. But it takes much more than a few homepage ads to sell an unproven smartphone line — especially when so many people own smartphones already. Just ask Microsoft.
The upshot is that Amazon needs to whomp consumers over the head with an unprecedented line-up of new, novel features. Companies can no longer play catch-up in the mobile market, so to succeed in smartphones, Amazon needs to capture the hearts, minds and bank accounts of potential consumers.
Interested to know more, Amazon? Here are a few ideas that could put your “Kindle Phone” on top.
Unlock and Subsidize Like No One Has Ever Done Before
As smartphone consumers, we’re all accustomed to subsidized handsets from carriers. To save money on hardware, we agree to stick with a carrier for two years regardless of how horrible its service may be. In exchange, we get the coolest, latest mobile phone at a discount. It’s a tradeoff most of us make.
But Amazon can wield its unique power to diminish the role of carriers — it could both unlock its phone (freeing consumers from two-year contracts) as well as subsidize the price of the phone to a level that piques real consumer curiosity. Because the Kindle Phone would function as a money-making portal into Amazon’s retail experience, the company could subsidize the device on its own, effectively selling it at cost, and reaping rich rewards on the backend of physical and digital commerce.
So that’s the plan, Amazon: Throw a dual GSM/CDMA radio into the phone, unlock it, sell it directly from Amazon.com, and let consumers choose their own carrier terms.
Don’t Skimp on a Killer E-Book Display
Its subsidized price tag notwithstanding, the phone still needs a killer, high-resolution display. The Kindle Phone, after all, will be celebrated as the ultimate pocket-friendly mobile device for watching movies and reading e-books, so it needs a Retina-quality display that competes with what we see on, say, the iPhone 4S or HTC One X.
If a consumer can see a pixel, you’ve failed, Amazon. But we know you can pull this off. The display industry is realizing efficiencies of scale in the ultra-high-resolution space, and prices should be low enough once your phone needs to ship.
Give Us Sliding Video Charges
Amazon has so much clout as a retailer, it’s in a unique position to rewrite the rules of how consumers pay for streaming video. The company already offers an extensive library of free videos for people who subscribe to its Prime service, and that’s great. But for video rentals that still incur a cost, why not reduce prices when people stream directly to their smartphones? After all, the experience of watching a movie on a 46-inch HDTV is much more premium than watching that same movie on a 4-inch handset.
Yes, it’s the same movie. And, yes, both movies would stream at HD resolution. But the core experiences are different, and your pricing should reflect that, Amazon. Especially if you want a lot of people to buy videos directly off of their Kindle Phones.
So let’s pay $4 for the best Instant Video titles on computers and set-top boxes, but $2 when streaming on smartphones. And let’s extend this same deal to the Kindle Fire, as well. You might initially balk, Amazon, but once you see all the people renting movies from your phones, you’ll be glad you went with a sliding scale.
Ad-Driven Data Subsidization
Amazon’s e-readers can be purchased for less if you agree to lock-screen ads. Image: Amazon
Let’s keep the consumer-friendly deals moving forward with something akin to what Amazon already does with its Kindle e-reader line: lock screen ads. Yes, we said it. And we’re sure some of our Wired readers just released spit-takes. But we can’t diminish the value of lock-screen ads.
Currently, Amazon offers Kindle e-reader price reductions of up to $50 for consumers who opt in to lock-screen ads. In effect, suffering through a few advertisements subsidizes your hardware costs. But for the Kindle Phone, we’re not looking for hardware subsidies — we’re looking for data subsidies.
Amazon already has a sweetheart data deal with AT&T to bring free, unlimited data to its e-reader. Of course, e-books don’t demand much bandwidth, and we wouldn’t expect the same deal for a data-hogging smartphone, but Amazon is still well-positioned to negotiate cheaper data plans for consumers willing to look at ads. Perhaps a consumer opts into lock-screen ads, and receives a $10 to $15 discount on his or her data plan.