Just a few days ago, one of the biggest companies in the world announced a major new addition to its product lineup—and from where I’m sitting, nobody really seems to care. Frankly, that’s not too surprising: As much as I might genuinely like to have a reason for excitement over the Amazon Fire Phone, there just doesn’t seem to be one.
I don’t mean that to sound overly harsh, or overly critical of Jeff Bezos. Let me go on the record in saying that I love Amazon.com. I am a Prime member. I hope the company continues to succeed, which of course it will—despite some business choices that are frankly bewildering to me, not the least of which is the new Fire Phone.
In case you didn’t hear—yes, Amazon is breaking into the smartphone arena, with its upcoming Fire Phone product. The product will, theoretically, compete head-to-head with the iPhone, though the overwhelming consensus among tech experts is that Apple has absolutely nothing to be afraid of. I agree.
Frankly, I’m not sure that Apple ever cares much about what Amazon does. Let’s not forget that Apple is a hardware company first and foremost—that developing things like the iPod and the iPhone is what Apple does, what has made the company successful. Amazon.com is rightly heralded for a number of things, but very few of us think of Amazon as a hardware company per se. Certainly, I do not know of anyone who has ever made the switch from the Kindle to the iPad and regretted it, or looked back even for a second.
The big reason why Apple’s products shine in a way that Amazon’s do not, I think, comes down to the basic attitude held by the two companies. Apple Computers, from its earliest days, was always a company intent on doing something different. Today, Apple is nearly alone among companies that emphasize content over all else; Google is the only competitor that is on the same wavelength. With a product like the iPhone, in other words, Apple tries to offer a truly unique content experience—not just a cool but ultimately empty little box.
Amazon is more of a “me too” company, and the Fire Phone proves it. There is no unique content experience here. Frankly, there is nothing on offer with the Fire Phone that would qualify as distinctive or original—nothing, really, that you can do on the Fire Phone that you can’t do with other devices. (Sure, there’s the 3-D screen component, which is neat, but where’s the content for it?)
All of this begs the simple question: Why would anyone ditch the iPhone for the Fire Phone? Honestly, I just don’t think anyone would.
Crucially, this will not stop Amazon from making the phone and declaring it an unparalleled success. Jeff Bezos is weirdly averse to providing specific sales figures—see the Kindle—and my guess is he’ll make 60 of these Fire Phones and then tell us, correctly yet also misleadingly, that they all sold out on Day 1. But it won’t really be a success in any meaningful way. It’s not a product I think consumers need to get particularly excited about, and it’s certainly not one that might worry Apple.