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Fast Company: ‘The Real Story Behind Jeff Bezos’s Fire Phone Debacle and What It Means for Amazon’s Future’

It’s a couple of weeks old, but I just now got around to finishing Austin Carr’s detailed and incredibly well-sourced story on the making of Amazon’s Fire Phone. Scathing take on Bezos’s involvement:

And team members simply could not imagine truly useful applications for Dynamic Perspective. As far as anyone could tell, Bezos was in search of the Fire Phone’s version of Siri, a signature feature that could make the device a blockbuster. But what was the point, they wondered, beyond some fun gaming interactions and flashy 3-D lock screens. “In meetings, all Jeff talked about was, ‘3-D, 3-D, 3-D!’ He had this childlike excitement about the feature and no one could understand why,” recalls a former engineering head who worked solely on Dynamic Perspective for years. “We poured surreal amounts of money into it, yet we all thought it had no value for the customer, which was the biggest irony. Whenever anyone asked why we were doing this, the answer was, ‘Because Jeff wants it.’ No one thought the feature justified the cost to the project. No one. Absolutely no one.” […]

According to three sources familiar with the company’s numbers, the Fire Phone sold just tens of thousands of units in the weeks that preceded the company’s radical price cuts. The $170 million write-down confirmed that the launch has been a dud.

I disagree with Carr’s assessment that Fire Phone was doomed from the outset because it didn’t fit within Amazon’s brand. Carr writes:

What makes the Fire Phone a particularly troubling adventure, however, is that Amazon’s CEO seemingly lost track of the essential driver of his company’s brand. It’s understandable that Bezos would want to give Amazon a premium shine, but to focus on a high-end product, instead of the kind of service that has always distinguished the company, proved misguided. “We can’t compete head to head with Apple,” says a high-level source at Lab126. “There is a branding issue: Apple is premium, while our customers want a great product at a great price.”

Brands are the result of products and services, not the other way around. The problem with the Fire Phone is that it’s a shitty phone. That’s it. If Amazon had made a phone with compelling features — an iPhone-caliber phone — it would have done just fine, and Amazon’s brand would have grown. If you set out to make a premium quality phone, you have to deliver a premium quality phone.

Friday, 23 January 2015