Amazon should go back to making smartphones already

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Amazon should go back to making smartphones already
Amazon is, has been, and will probably always be known as an e-commerce giant first and foremost, but its in-house consumer electronics production division is growing like no other, both from a quantity and a quality standpoint.

After getting in on the ground floor of the e-reader category that's essentially become synonymous with the Kindle lineup, Amazon expanded to the tablet market and then single-handedly created what is now the tech world's fastest-growing industry. For the last few years, the company has focused primarily on flooding the smart home market by putting Alexa on every item imaginable, from big and small screens to wall clocks, microwave ovens, and electrical outlets.

But while general policy seems to dictate nothing is out of reach when it comes to untapped little market niches and quirky concepts, Amazon can also occasionally follow other tech titans into established product categories showing potential for further growth. Case in point, the Apple AirPods-rivaling (and undercutting) Echo Buds, which are ready to join an increasingly crowded and competitive industry nonetheless primed for continued success.

With that out of the way and the surprisingly affordable Echo Studio also just about ready to give the high-end Apple HomePod a run for its money, you're probably wondering what might
be next for Amazon in the consumer hardware space. Obviously, no one can know for sure so soon after this fall's avalanche of Alexa-powered device announcements, but my ardent personal desire is to see the company get back on that smartphone-making horse.

Time to get past the Fire Phone fiasco

Some of you may not remember this (or so Amazon would like to think), but before the first Echo edition even saw daylight, a woefully misguided Fire Phone was released as an AT&T exclusive in the US. Said carrier exclusivity deal definitely harmed the mass appeal of the Android-based handset, but in the grand scheme of things, it was only the tip of the iceberg for a doomed device that Amazon believed could make it big thanks to a number of terribly gimmicky 3D tricks.

As much as we want to forget about arguably one of the most epic duds in the history of the mobile industry, the Fire Phone likely remains a vivid memory for anyone unfortunate enough to experience its long list of catastrophic misfires and glaring flaws. But it's not necessarily a bad thing that people remember this stinker, and Amazon shouldn't be afraid of embracing its past mistakes either.

If the company can instead learn from them and avoid repeating them (in their original or a more "modern" form), a prospective Fire Phone 2 could be epic (hold the dud). Of course, naming it Fire Phone 2 would be the greatest strategic error of all, but that's surely not happening. Carrier exclusivity deals should be off the table as well, especially considering the massive popularity of unlocked devices sold on nowadays. Absolutely no gimmicky experiments are allowed if whenever Amazon decides to try its hand at an in-house handset again. 

There aren't a lot of companies that can afford to play it safe and realistically expect to strike gold in the smartphone business, but Amazon might just be one of them. 

The market needs another hero

The timing for a possible comeback certainly feels right, as many market research firms and industry analysts are predicting an imminent rebound for global smartphone sales. But very few major vendors are expected to benefit from this general trend, and most of them have only themselves to blame for that. It's probably not worth reiterating why OEMs like LG, HTC, and Sony are not doing as well as they used to, creating the perfect environment for a smaller player or an altogether newcomer to step up into the limelight.

The US market in particular needs someone to break up the Apple/Samsung duopoly, and mostly for political reasons, that someone can't be Huawei or any other company headquartered in China. And with Google seemingly clueless enough to continue overcharging for its Pixels, the door is wide open for Amazon to try to replicate the success of the Echo family in the smartphone landscape.

I'm thinking about an affordable Echo Phone with deep Alexa integration and similar upper mid-range specs as the Pixel 3a. After all, that bad boy is still listed as Amazon's number one bestseller in the unlocked cell phones category roughly five months on the heels of its commercial debut. Once this thing takes off, Amazon can pull an Echo Studio and go after high-end handsets as well to take the business to the next level and truly rival the likes of Apple and Samsung. But that's clearly a long way down the road.

Why can't Google and Amazon just get along?

If you remember 2015's Fire Phone fiasco, you might also recall the hordes of potential buyers, as well as actual buyers, that declared themselves willing to overlook the cheap 3D tricks if only the handset could do one simple thing - access core Google apps and services. Unfortunately for Amazon, things haven't radically changed in the years since. Just look at Huawei's incredibly beautiful and powerful new flagship, which is DOA in the USA (and other Western territories) without the Play Store.

Granted, Fire tablets are selling pretty well with undoubtedly one of the best modified Android versions pre-installed, but at least in part, that's because "normal" Android on tablets isn't exactly great. The other part of the equation is the aggressive pricing structure of the Fire slate lineup, which Amazon can't possibly replicate and sustain in today's smartphone market.

Bottom line, Amazon needs Google to pull off a successful mobile industry comeback, and although Google doesn't desperately need Amazon, it would certainly be nice for the search giant to add another big (US-based) weapon to its Apple-fighting arsenal. After all, it still doesn't look like the company is taking its in-house smartphone designs very seriously.

The thing is Google and Amazon have been engaged in quite the bitter war of egos for the past few years. According to an interesting recent report by The Telegraph, Google did everything it could to bury the Fire Phone, which definitely wouldn't happen again if Amazon agrees to play nice with Android and the Play Store for an eventual sequel. I'm obviously dreaming here, but an Echo Phone might bring the best of both worlds together, running a licensed, official version of Android with full Play Store access, as well as the Amazon Appstore pre-loaded, plus the user's choice of hands-free Google Assistant or Alexa support. Who's with me?



2. nikhil23

Posts: 490; Member since: Dec 07, 2016

Lol..when they actually made a phone, many texh blog sites were like "Amazon should stop making phones"

7. sgodsell

Posts: 7531; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

Tablets are always different. Tablets made sense for Amazon, especially since they can be used as ereaders as well. Now when it comes to smartphones, then Amazon would have to make a google play smartphone, otherwise it wont sell in north america. Not well at least. This is also where microsoft takes a cut as well. Unless Amazon cuts a deal with Microsoft to include Microsoft's office apps or something like that. Plus Amazon would have to pay Google as well. Lets face it Amazons app store is barren in comparison to Google play stote. If Amazon did that, then i could see Amazon selling Android smartphones again. If Amazon wants a new category then Amazon should have gone much farther with their AI Alexa glasses, and made an AR headset as well. Especially since its a category that is still new, and for the taking.

3. OneLove123

Posts: 1250; Member since: Aug 28, 2018

I still have my fire

20. rkoforever90

Posts: 474; Member since: Dec 03, 2011

I wanted to buy one just to try out those gimmick lol but fortunately or unfortunately it was pulled out from EE , if my memory is right who was the sole retailer in UK and even the amazon website

4. tokuzumi

Posts: 1953; Member since: Aug 27, 2009

I would be ok with this if Amazon didn't use their forked version of Android. The Amazon app store is fine, and most apps are available, but Google Play Store always gets priority on app updates for most apps. Plus, Amazon wasn't all that swift with OS updates.

5. Rocket

Posts: 698; Member since: Feb 24, 2014

I bought 3 of those in 2016 (for my family) and my 3 years of free amazon prime expired in June. They were ok phones.

8. sgodsell

Posts: 7531; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

They were only valid in the US. I tried to get one in Canada.

6. Rocket

Posts: 698; Member since: Feb 24, 2014

An Echo phone running stock Android would be cool i think.

10. pimpin83z

Posts: 595; Member since: Feb 08, 2019

"The Echo Buds will show us if Amazon can succeed in an existing market dominated by another tech titans" Fixed, unless the tech titan you were referring to is Bose.

13. jellmoo

Posts: 2654; Member since: Oct 31, 2011

Honestly? I think that going down that route again isn't really worth the risk. Amazon would have a lot at stake, and the losses from the Fire Phone still sting. I think they should do a strategic partnership where they rebrand an existing device and couple it with their software. It would make for a great way to introduce Xiaomi hardware, for example, into North America. Have an Amazon branded Redmi Note 8, for example, with Alexa and other Amazon goodies baked in. Less risk on their end, and a good entry point for Xiaomi.

15. Sparkxster

Posts: 1241; Member since: Mar 31, 2017

Amazon needs their own software. They should buy Blackberry OS and develop it and put it on fire devices+ smartphones.

16. wesley.

Posts: 217; Member since: Aug 06, 2013

That was a quite a mediocre iPhone clone. They could do a lot better now if they have a good design and good hardware. The current big screen , small bezel trend would also suit their services like Kindle and Prime Video a lot better.

17. Duncdawg26

Posts: 179; Member since: Jan 20, 2017

Nice editorial piece, good idea to mull over. To me, it's always about the price... And you forgot to include Motorola in the "overpriced" segment. Terrible pricing in the US due to a complete absence of real competition... If Amazon could price budget phones like in India (Xiaomi and Realme) I'd certainly give it a try, whatever software they throw on it.

21. rkoforever90

Posts: 474; Member since: Dec 03, 2011

Such a phone makes total sense in US market , where there is no competitive mid ranger and entry level smartphones, Since they dont need to compete with xiaomi , Reallme or whatever; it can be moderately successful

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