It’s no secret that Amazon’s first smartphone has been a commercial and critical flop. But a new article in Fast Company details just how involved CEO Jeff Bezos was in the planning and execution of the Fire Phone debacle. The phone was his baby.
At one point during the Fire Phone development process, Jeff Bezos reportedly “spent a month” working from Amazon’s R&D offices in California, functioning as the phone’s “product manager,” according to Fast Company, citing employees who have since left [company]Amazon[/company].
In fact, Bezos was reportedly the driving force behind the Fire Phone’s Dynamic Perspective, a bold gimmick that simulates a 3D interface on a smartphone screen with the help of four front-facing cameras and some nifty facial recognition technology.
Although the feature, which cost “surreal amounts of money” to develop, ended up making it onto the Fire Phone, the four cameras kill battery life, and ultimately Dynamic Perspective probably isn’t the “Fire Phone’s version of Siri,” as Bezos had hoped. As the tech press pointed out when the Fire Phone launched, there just isn’t much you can do with it besides gaming.
In Bezos’ defense, Dynamic Perspective was in fact the one feature that no other handset could match. It just isn’t a good feature.
Apparently, during the development process, a stripped-down, basic phone prototype was produced. This phone was supposed to be extremely cheap — perhaps even included free with a Prime subscription. Bezos spiked it in favor of the phone that eventually launched, which was initially priced the same as the Apple iPhone — surprising people coming from a company that (almost) always prices its products aggressively. After two price cuts, the Fire Phone now costs $200 without a contract.
Amazon’s R&D department, called Lab126, is in Sunnyvale and Cupertino, California — over 800 miles away from Amazon’s corporate headquarters in Seattle, but in a better location for poaching hardware talent from companies like Apple. Although it’s where all of Amazon’s hardware is designed, from the first Kindle to other experiments like Dash and Echo, it increasingly appears to be disconnected from Amazon’s older e-commerce and AWS departments. Fast Company reported yesterday that Lab126 is undergoing a big reorganization, with two executives who worked closely on the Fire Phone leaving the company.