Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Amazon's Fire Devices: What The Heck Happened?

Something has been bothering me: Where did Amazon go wrong with their Fire devices? I'll tell you, and it's easy to explain.

Image courtesy Geekwire

First of all, their specs were mediocre. Not terrible, but they came into an arms race far behind in tech. They had some decent selling points (had they sold those selling points, more on that later) but they were roughly a year and a half behind everybody else in every other aspect. Their main selling points in terms of tech were battery life and some fairly mediocre storage space and specs, but those are selling points none the less!
That brings us to the next big problem: the marketing. I think that their marketing campaign did the most damage. They didn't market any specs, instead relying on marketing trendiness (in the form of that awful "Hipster kids" commercial... you know the one) and on software "advantages" (like a limited free subscription to Amazon Prime and a voice recognition software that would have been impressive if EVERY PHONE ON THE PLANET DIDN'T HAVE A BETTER ONE SINCE SIRI DEBUTED IN 2010).
The advertisements said nothing about the devices themselves (size, technical specs, if it has a decent camera or Web connectivity). It doesn't have to have the best specs to sell the specs (Apple has been selling inferior technology for YEARS while just saying that "it is awesome, trust us," while describing it). Amazon instead aimed toward advertisements meant to intentionally induce trendiness (doesn't work like that) and in some cases it can only be described as an attempt to intentionally confuse (Gary Busey talking to his television still haunts my dreams.)
Image courtesy of Mashable
Amazon Fire devices failed so hard that Amazon stock took a record nosedive that year, and CEO Jeff Bezos had to invest millions of dollars out of his own pocket to make up for the losses (should be noted that this disaster was his "baby").
Image courtesy of Biography
So what happened? How did such an otherwise successful company blunder so badly? Amazon is known for their technological innovations and pushing the limits- how did they mess this one up?
Image coutresy of knowyourmeme
First of all: Amazon was new to the smart device game (outside of Kindle, which is seen as an old people's plaything within the tech community). Android and iPhone devices have been so furiously at each other's throats in a decade - long arms race that even Microsoft can't butt in worth a damn. In order to enter this kind of arena, Amazon would have to put more money into making a comparable device that stands on its own than other phone companies have been investing over years.
Image courtesy of TopMobileTrends
This is hugely risky, because if you don't innovate immediately then you will be left in the dust. Look at the curious case of Duke Nukem Forever, where a game was being built for so long that by the time something was playable, they'd have to double the development time updating it to be more like a modern game. I speculate that this is what happened with Fire: they ended up with a device that would have been amazing when they started development, but the world moved on while they developed, and they were left with something mediocre for the time that it came out.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia
Not only that: I speculate that they wanted to spend longer in development, but it was proving to be too costly. People in marketing and finance must have told Bezos that they needed to start selling devices or there would be no reconciling their spending.
Image courtesy of The Verge
Then, in an effort to push the device into the market, they created a horrible advertising campaign. They pushed the device into the water to sink or swim only ONE MONTH AFTER ANNOUNCING IT.
Image courtesy of The Guardian
The fanfare was nonexistent, the reviews were crummy, the advertisements were borderline abstract and failed to even attempt to sell the devices, and what would have been a decent device in 2012-2013 turned out to be one of Amazon's biggest blunders of 2014, and one that they're still hurting from.
Image courtesy of The Motley Fool
How could they have fixed this? I say it's all in the marketing. Amazon could have made a profit if they mislead people by saying their specs were great. They could have had commercials where they say, "Ooh, look at the fancy screen. Ahh, look at the good Web connectivity. Ooh, look at the receptive touchscreen. Ahh, look at the storage space. This is much better than nonspecific competitors!" Instead they tried to be "hip and trendy" and came off like old, out of touch people who use those words.
Image courtesy of 123entertain
The bottom line is: Amazon didn't develop a great piece of tech, but they didn't need to. They just needed to market it as great.

Anyway, that's the end of my rant.  I just had to get that out there.

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