Editorial: Why Amazon’s Rumored Smartphone Will Likely be a Failure


Rumors of an Amazon branded smartphone have started to fly suggesting that the retail giant is looking for viable options to enter the smartphone business after seeing an immense success with its tablet, the Kindle Fire.

A big question about this story has been hitting me for two days that whether the rumored Amazon smartphone will ever be able to achieve the same milestone or not. My less than stellar mind says no.

Before diving deep into my thoughts, let us first recap the launch of Kindle Fire and the factors that helped it become the best selling Android tablet ever.

kindle-fireBack in 2011, when the iPad was enjoying unrivaled success in the tablet market, it was only Amazon who was able to successfully challenge it with its own tablet, the Kindle Fire. Amazon did what other manufacturers were doing wrong:

  • First, it kept the price of Kindle Fire as low and affordable as possible knowing the fact that there are many people who’re interested in owning a tablet, but cannot afford an iPad.
  • Secondly, Amazon also realized that people primarily use their tablets to consume content — read books, magazines, watch movies, TV shows, etc., and so, it offered Kindle Fire owners with access to a huge library of its digital content.

And Boom! The Kindle Fire started selling like hotcakes. In just three months after its launch, it had managed to capture approximately a quarter of the tablet market share while other Android tablets were still struggling to reach even 5% of it despite boasting superlative specifications.

But can Amazon achieve the same feat with a smartphone? I doubt it. Smartphones are totally a different story.

Kindle Fire’s most impressive feature was probably its price — 199 bucks. Despite the fact that it offered virtually zero profit margin to Amazon, Amazon still turned it into a profit making machine by using it as a medium to sell eBooks, magazines and other digital content to Kindle Fire owners. But can Amazon do the same with a smartphone? No. People rarely read books or magazines on their smartphones — they instead consume applications, which Amazon doesn’t have enough to offer.

Applications drive an ecosystem and they’re probably the biggest hurdle for Amazon. Although the rumored Amazon smartphone will run on Android, which has more than 600,000 apps available for it in the Play Store, Amazon will undoubtedly replace the Play Store with its own App Store in the phone — as it did with the Kindle Fire — which has approximately only 37,000 apps or just 6% of apps in the Play Store.

os-market-share-2012Apps are the sole reason why Android and Apple are dominating the smartphone market and the sole reason why Windows Phone has failed to take off despite sporting a superb software. On a comparison note, even Windows Phone has more than twice the number of apps available in Amazon’s App store.

There are just not enough apps in the App Store for Amazon to sell a smartphone with negligible profit margin and still make money out of it on the longer run by selling apps to those phone owners. This leaves Amazon with no option for making profits other than selling its future phone at full price and that too with a decent profit margin.

This demands another question to be answered — what will be then the selling factor of its phone? Relatively cheap price?

Yes Amazon can do that. In fact, it’ll have to do that considering the fact that it will be nearly impossible for it fight with Samsung or Apple at similar price levels. But it cannot manufacture a phone that is both cheap and high on specifications at the same time. It’ll be most probably based on Android and so, the phone needs to be high on specifications or else the result will definitely be a slow phone with a choppy user interface, like we’ve seen in the Kindle Fire. And people will hate that.

Interestingly, Adrian Hughes of ZDNet thinks that Amazon can adopt a different game-plan by developing an user friendly interface to give Samsung, HTC and Sony a run for their money. I’ll just quote his words here:

While there’s no doubt that Android smartphones have experienced tremendous success, one of the complaints that I hear leveled against the platform is that it isn’t particularly friendly, especially to those who don’t consider themselves to be technically literate.

… a much-needed dumbing down of the platform that could give it an enormous advantage over both Apple iPhone and the entirety of the Android ecosystem.

A dumbed-down Android experience could be just what average users are waiting for..

But, in my opinion, he’s wrong. Although it is true that Android is not very user-friendly, Amazon will still not be able to beat Samsung and others just by making its UI user-friendly as Samsung has already been doing that for long and so have other manufacturers.

Compare the following two screenshots of dialers present in ICS and Samsung Touchwiz to get an idea of what I’m talking about:


It took my dad two full days to figure out that the clock icon on the top is the call logs tab. And it is obvious — how is a non-techy person ever going to discover that touching that clock icon will open call logs? But Samsung’s dialer (on the right) mentions the tab names clearly and makes it easier for laymen to understand the UI. It is one of the many areas in TouchWiz UI where Samsung has made considerable efforts to make the UI as user-friendly as possible.

In short, an user-friendly UI is also not going to help Amazon to win this race of smartphone wars. In fact, I cannot think of a single distinctive feature with which Amazon can impress consumers and I’m very skeptical of its success unless it manages to pull out something that… changes everything.

[Image credits: BGR, MobileShop]

Nexus Tablet: Why It is Different from a Nexus Phone

Google Nexus Phone

In the past few days, the rumors of Google making and selling their own tablet have gained steam. The rumors also point to a Kindle Fire-like price point of $199. The instant reaction is to look at Google’s earlier attempt to sell hardware directly to consumers, the Nexus One phone. We know it was a failed experiment which Google acknowledged, by shutting down the operations.

Nexus tablet, on the other hand, is a completely different story. I have firmly believed that tablets should not be sold by the carriers. Yes, there are some options with tablets where you can get cellular broadband service, but first and foremost, a tablet should be sold like a PC. I mean, a computer store or a consumer electronics store. Best Buy, Fry’s Electronics and the like. The carriers can also hop in and sell the 3G/4G versions of the tablets like they tried selling the 3G-enabled netbooks. So, taking the sales point away from the carrier stores is a good sign. Compare this with the phone where, at least in the US, it is extremely hard to sell a phone without subsidies. Nokia tried it long time ago and failed. Even Apple briefly tried the unsubsidized route but realized people are much more sensitive to upfront price than you would think. Given that the sale of the phone is tied so much to a carrier, it does not make much sense to conduct the sale away from the carrier. Apple is clearly an exception here, like in many business processes today.

Secondly, the price. If the rumors are true and the tablet is in fact around $199, it will be a huge win. A stock Android tablet with no “skins” installed, for $199 could be an interesting device. Kindle Fire has its ecosystem to rely upon but out of the box, it does limit which Android apps can run on the device. If a Nexus tablet can run all Android apps, and additionally support Amazon media consumption (either via Amazon apps like Kindle app or via the browser for Amazon Video), it becomes a superset of the Fire, for the same price as the Fire. Yes, the current Android tablets already do all of that, I understand. However, none of them have gained any traction yet, and if Google can get behind the marketing and sales, and create a Nexus phone-style clean and crisp user experience, I think users may get interested.

In fact, if this strategy does not work, you can presumably call it the end of the road for Android tablets.

Rumor: Psychonauts 2 May Soon Become a Real Game

I love Psychonauts. I really really do. It’s one of those things that I remember from back when gaming meant getting lost in a different world completely and utterly and forgetting time or even the concept of it. So when word gets around that Tim Schafer, the creator of one of the finest platformers of all time, says that he is ready for Psychonauts 2, a lot of hearts start racing.


These hearts start racing faster and faster when the creator of Minecraft, Markus Persson, tweets and follows up on Reddit that he will be willing to fund the game and will not be involved in any other way in the production of the game. At least mine did. It’s like watching something beautiful shape up in front of your eyes. It’s like Genesis fruiting in front of you. It’s like the host of other analogies that I cannot remember right now.

Moreover, DoubleFine Studios’ new KickStarter project for a new old school game went way past its needed funding and crossed the $1 million mark in a matter of days. This led to more hinting from Schafer. He said that if the funding goes beyond a certain limit ($20 million), his studio may give fans the “bonus” of Psychonauts 2 with the $19 million surplus.

Are you excited? YOU BETTER BE!

Probable List of Humble Indie Bundle 4 Games Leaked!

The extremely popular pay-what-you-want Humble Indie Bundle series of indie game sales has been a joyride for many who wish to play the cream of the cool when it comes to indie gaming. Over the past few bundles, great games such as Braid, Machinarium, Defcon, and Frozen Synapse have been part of this excellent platform. It’s so good that many folks anticipate the next bundle with keen interest, looking to know the lineup days or months ahead of time. Whether this is to hold off on purchases of these indie games for their full price or   for the mere sating of curiosity is debatable.


Nevertheless, many enterprising gamers on /r/IndieGaming found out the probable lineup of the next Humble Indie Bundle through the Steam Registry keys. The original source of the information is very probably NeoGAF, since the community there has done this sort of thing before with the bundles, with great success.

So what is the probable lineup of the next HIB?

  • Shank: Klei Entertainment’s beat em up sports a lovely comic-bookish art style of a man out for revenge. The story is written by God of War co-creator Marianne Krawczyk who really likes revenge stories, apparently. I am personally not sure about this one since the game was published by the behemoth of a non-indie publisher called Electronic Arts, but let’s see.
  • BIT.TRIP RUNNER: If you have never played a BIT.TRIP game yet, I sincerely suggest that you start with this. The games are designed to work with the background music in such a way that the obstacles and enemies in your way follow the beats and rhythm in the background. BIT.TRIP RUNNER is a solid game in the series. Mucho fun!
  • Jamestown: Mix a top-down shooter, steampunk, Mars colonization and the 17th century with pixelated graphics and you get Jamestown. It’s better than it sounds (and it sounds good!)
  • Gratuitous Space Battles: This is one game I personally am looking forward to playing, regardless of the Humble Bundle’s sale. It’s a space battle simulator in which you plan the battles before they happen (predicting the AI’s moves ahead of time) and let the entire thing unfold in front of you.
  • Cave Story +: Cave Story is the original indie runaway hit, with ports being developed on every system possible. The innocuous platformer has made thousands of fans and has now been rewritten and upgraded for the PC.

This gorgeous lineup practically makes me scream TAKE MY MONEY!, but we have to wait and see how it turns out!

DICE Helping Out Bioware With Mass Effect 3

Electronic Arts’ subsidiary studio Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment (DICE) is helping out Bioware with the final installment of their epic space opera role playing game Mass Effect 3. DICE is the studio behind Battlefield 2, Mirror’s Edge, and the latest Medal of Honor. While they are frantically in pursuit of Need for Speed The Run‘s development schedule, they are also helping out Bioware with the audio realismof the guns and bombs in Mass Effect 3. While they are not actively working with Bioware, some ideas were apparently shared between the two studios on the upcoming action role playing shooter.


In other words: Oh my god, Mass Effect 3 is going to be so awesome not only will the story come to a great ending [we hope], it will also have great characters, an amazing soundtrack and, most importantly, realistic physics driven guns. What more could I possibly want?

Although I can assure you that it is the minority that will probably say What more could I possibly want?(especially since The Witcher 2 is looming large on the horizon) there will be quite a few notable representatives of our esteemed gaming community who will.


However, DICE’s site has no such affirmation on the news and we could only find one citation on the Wikipedia page for DICE. Not that big an issue, am I right? It’s going to be awesome, right? Right?