Kindle Fire phone both excites and disappoints

Fanfare as Bezos intros Kindle Fire phone.  Firefly feature is cool & useful.

Fanfare as Bezos intros Kindle Fire phone. Firefly feature is cool & useful.


The Kindle Fire phone, on the AT&T network represents both sides of the spectrum — one of the most amazing devices I’ve ever seen, as well as a device with one of the biggest downside risks.

As soon as I took it out of the box, I recognized how remarkable it is — because in true Amazon fashion, it has the possibility of redefining how we think of phones.  Instead of making us use two hands to pick and choose our apps and dial, it allows us to move the phone itself to capture some of the most common command — much more than an iPhone or Android has ever done.

Tilt it to one side and you get to important commands like airplane mode, bluetooth on/off and a flashlight.  Tilt it the other way to get back to your main screen. Rotate the phone in one direction to see the main menu of commands, or in the other direction to get a context sensitive menu of whichever app you’re currently using.  After a few days of practice, these commands alone make it easier to use your phone without keeping your eyes on it constantly, as well as let you operate it without needing to free both your hands.

One of the most useful attributes of this one-handed model is whenever you’re reading a long web page or document.  Tilt it forward to scroll down the page, and backwards to scroll up.  Again, a great paradigm shift.  It takes some getting used to — but it’s revolutionary.

The other tremendously useful feature is the Fire phone’s ability to read phone numbers, addresses, and Internet URLs, which the company calls “Firefly”.  Firefly uses the camera and optical recognition to read whatever is in front of the camera lens.  You’ll see swirling lights (similar to those on the NBC TV show, Revolution) which concentrate on the recognized number or address and highlight it, then show you what it thinks it says.  Now you can click on it to go to that webpage or call it over the AT&T network.  It’s remarkable — and head-&-shoulders better than having to find QR codes to read.

The downside to this amazing phone is that the apps library is poor; so if you want many of the most popular apps, you simply can’t get them.  As time goes on, that will probably be rectified; but in the meantime, unless you use this device only for its phone, it’s inconvenient at best, and a deal breaker at worse.

The other issue, which is not insignificant, is that many people will see the new paradigm as difficult to learn and unnecessary — a reasonable stance, especially since the navigation controls of swiping with a finger are already good in most situations.  Add the move to voice recognition as it continues to get better, and the new Kindle Fire twist and rotate paradigm could become a dinosaur — even if it catches on.

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, has always had a very long term vision; so I’m confident that this device will get better as time goes on — and the early versions are certainly ground breaking.  But if you buy this device, expect to be overwhelmed by cool & useful, and sorely disappointed by what’s missing.


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