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Yesterday, Amazon unveiled the new product it had worked us up into a fever pitch to see. Its new Amazon Fire is a phone with a high-definition Gorilla glass screen, rubber casing, 13 megapixel camera, 24/7 customer service through MayDay, unlimited photo storage in the cloud, plus 12 months of free Amazon Prime membership (worth $99). The cost? $199 for a 32 GB phone or $299 for a 64 GB phone, according to pricing on AT&T’s website.
Of course, expectations were high. The smartphone market is dominated by essentially two offerings, Apple phones with the iOS operating system and Samsung/HTC/other phones running on Android OS. To win major market share where even the mighty Microsoft has struggled would take a lot. So Fire also includes a button-controlled feature called Firefly, which can scan up to 100 million products for review or purchase from the Amazon marketplace (making showrooming easier than ever). More amazing, it introduces the much-heralded 3D technology called “dynamic perspective” which creates image depth and also allows for page scrolling based on the angle of one’s head. This leading-edge 3D imaging technology makes video and photo capture a more immersive, realistic experience. And I expect Fire’s 3D lock-screen images will now constitute the new badge of coolness.
All this is impressive, but as a long-time student of product launches, I was more interested in the unveiling process than the product itself. Was the launch just as innovative as the product? Did it accomplish its goals?
The gold standard for such things was set by Apple under Steve Jobs, and it was clear some weeks ago that Jeff Bezos was taking more than a page from Apple’s book. The teaser campaign for Fire’s launch was shamelessly Apple-esque. In a YouTube video released by Amazon two weeks ago (and viewed at this point over 2.5 million times), affable-looking people in their 20s and 30s are shown from the shoulders up marveling at what they are holding in their hands. We hear their oohs and ahhs, but we never see the product. The video, featuring a very similar visual style to previous teasers by Apple, succeeded in getting the rumor mill going without giving away anything.
Of course a photo of the phone was leaked—but the glimpse it afforded of multiple cameras at each end of the device only stoked more interest in the potential for 3D capabilities. As part of the official announcement of the launch date, Bezos sent a copy of his “favorite childhood book—Mr. Pine’s Purple House” to the media, hinting that the new product would reinforce its message that “the world is a better place when things are a little bit different.” This was reminiscent of Apple’s colorful invite which teased the announcement of the multi-hued iPhone 5c by saying “this should brighten everyone’s day.”
But let’s also give Amazon credit for adding some new wrinkles to the playbook. Here were some aspects of the unveiling that struck me as innovative, and how they worked out.
Amazon granted an “exclusive” to CNET to stream live event coverage, which was an interesting move. But I doubt I am the only one who found the silly and sometimes snarky banter by the CNET reporters torture to watch for 95 minutes. I much preferred the commentary by Forbes.com, whose minute-by-minute text blogging was cogent, factual, and incisive—but unfortunately it didn’t feature video. Either way, it was disappointing not to hear Jeff Bezos’ own words about this incredible new product that is going to change the way we interact with our phone. Only experiencing coverage of the event by skeptical journalists took a great deal away from the excitement Bezos was trying to convey. The question that hung in the air: why would Amazon, given its hopes to dominate both the digital content and device world, choose not to live-stream this critical launch?
Bezos spent more than an hour talking features, taking the crowd to school on Firefly product-scanning and 3D technology. Was it the right thing to do for a hall full of tech devotees? Perhaps. For marketers, it’s always a challenge to decide how much relative focus to place on features or benefits, and understanding both is critical. But certainly no consumer was able to experience the “awesome nature” of the features being explained (since we were mostly getting secondhand screen shots from CNET’s live coverage). Watching the 3D portion of the presentation was like trying to enjoy Avatar on a tube TV.
Consumers were invited to enter a lottery to attend the launch event, and that was a cool idea. But of the 60,000 who petitioned to attend, very few wound up among the 500 media and influencer attendees. I expect we’ll see refinements—perhaps even some that are consumer generated—on this way to build excitement for the device.
The launch event took place at 10:30 am in Seattle, obviously convenient for the Amazon folks and west coast watchers. But that meant it kicked off at 1:30 pm eastern time and didn’t conclude till after 3:00 pm. The timing no doubt made it difficult for stories by national reporters to be filed in time for same-day reading—especially since the video did not simultaneously accompany the news.
While the Fire event fell short of the panache an Apple event typically delivers, and did not produce the kind of excitement this innovative device deserves, much about the launch was effective. Even through the foggy lens of blog coverage, it was clear that Amazon has introduced a wondrous new entry into the crowded smartphone category. Early adopters and innovators will no doubt rush to buy it, and they’ll show it off to their friends. More fundamentally, with the launch of Fire TV (a streaming content device similar to Apple TV), and the growth of its Appstore to more than 240,000 applications (tripled from last year), Amazon has the device and content ecosystem to support this launch. It’s obvious this multi-million dollar bet that is four years in the making wasn’t conceived on a whim.
Will that generate enough consumer demand (through a single phone carrier) to grab massive market share? This will depend on how much hype Amazon can continue to generate, and what it does next to motivate early adopters to check out this new eye candy. And then, as Amazon well knows, it’s all about the user reviews, word of mouth, recommendations from family and friends, and social chatter.
From the Most Memorable New Product Launch Survey my colleagues and I field annually, we’ve learned that consumers look for six or more sources of information before buying a new product. Yesterday’s launch was only the beginning – consumers will need more data points to be persuaded to make this discretionary smartphone purchase – but it started the Fire.
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