Harry Cockburn: Why I will not be buying an Amazon smartphone

On Wednesday evening in Seattle, Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos did his best Steve Jobs impersonation in unveiling the company’s first smartphone, the Amazon Fire.

Pitting itself against the world-dominating Apple iPhone and Samsung’s range of Galaxy smartphones, Amazon’s offering had to be truly brilliant. And it is. The technology on offer is staggering. It boasts a 3D holographic screen, four front-facing cameras which enable you to command the phone with movements of your head, and there are already thousands of apps available to download.

So far in my life I haven’t hankered after a 3D-screened telephone, nor felt a burning urge to control a 3D screen with my head, but nonetheless, this is an extraordinary object with some of the world’s most impressive expertise crammed inside.

On top of that, it’s not even that expensive. When the phone is released in the US on July 25, prices will start at $199 on a two-year contract. This will also include a year’s free Amazon Prime subscription – free fast delivery on purchases from Amazon. Handy.

Why then, do I feel a huge surge of despair when watching the launch videos and reviews detailing its various functions?  

When I ought to be over-awed by a pocket device containing the sort of technology NASA could only dream of two decades ago, I am instead nauseated.

This is because the Amazon smartphone is being nakedly marketed as a shopping tool. Why does it come with a year’s free Amazon Prime? Because one of its most heavily promoted features is its new ‘Firefly’ technology. You can put any purchasable item in front of one of the phone’s many cameras, and it will automatically detect it, tell you what it is, and enable you to buy it through Amazon.

If there’s a sure-fire way to become depressed and miserable fast it is through buying more stuff. Recent research shows that the more materialistic a person becomes, the more misery will pervade seemingly unrelated areas of their lives.

Amazon is not exactly the world’s most ethical retailer either. The company’s recent public spats over prices with publishers led to accusations of extortion and comparisons with the Mafia, highlighting the firm’s unwillingness to engage with companies who do not do as they are told. Amazon responded by preventing pre-orders of particular books, and by manipulating the algorithms that provide the suggestions for purchases to exclude certain items.

This phone, which will inevitably be adopted on a mass scale, will only increase Amazon’s dominance in endless product categories. People need only take out their phone to make purchases by taking photos with their phone. And that means even more companies will fall under Amazon’s control.

As Amazon squeezes companies for goods at ever lower costs, the impact is felt by those companies’ workers and in how resources are managed and maintained. Slash prices for consumers, burn companies and workers. This has already been seen within Amazon itself as workers recently protested against low wages by placing a fake book on the site demanding better pay.

Slash and burn. Amazon Fire couldn’t be more aptly named.

Harry Cockburn is business reporter at LondonlovesBusiness.com. He does not own a smartphone. Follow him on Twitter @Harry_Cockburn

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I think it's great. I ordered 2 books from Amazon on Tuesday evening and received them the following lunchtime and we live in the Peak District miles from any shops! Building the Amazon shopping functionality into their phone is no different then iPhones and Android phones having App Stores built in - just cleverer and with MORE choice.

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