Amazon's Fire phone could help win over the high street

With its new Fire phone launched on Wednesday, Amazon has the potential to instantly hijack the high street and make every song, sign, poster and product a point of sale opportunity, says Talon's Richard Simkins

Amazon's Fire phone: Firefly feature offers instant search and purchase facility
Amazon's Fire phone: Firefly feature offers instant search and purchase facility

Sure, directional positioning (head tracking that creates a virtual 3D effect on screen) seems interesting and I'm excited to see how app developers will use this technology, but in truth it's all about Firefly.

Firefly is Amazon's approach to one-click/tap/touch shopping on mobile, and it could be revolutionary. Upon touching the dedicated Firefly button on the side of the Fire phone, the user can scan any image, text, logo, barcode, or sound and instantly find the product on Amazon.

Each Fire phone will be shipped with the user's Amazon account already set up (and with a free Amazon Prime account, no less), so buying more stuff from the online retailer couldn't be easier. If this phone catches on (it is only currently launched in the US), this will completely disrupt current mobile transactional behaviour.

Which got me thinking about the phrase "if this catches on" in relation to mobile transactions. There are currently a number of fantastic new and emerging transactional platforms that deliver an incredible service and which deserve to become mainstream but the problem is twofold: (a) achieving scale, and (b) not succumbing to "creative destruction" (when a new offering kills an older one, think MySpace and floppy discs).

A few years ago, before phones became smart, I was introduced to SnapNow, a brilliant MMS-based image-recognition platform. Take a photo of something on your phone, send it in an MMS, and providing that SnapNow had that image saved on its database, it could send you back an SMS with more information, an image, and maybe even a link you could try to open. Exactly.

To survive, a platform like SnapNow has to educate millions of users, change their behaviour in a short period of time, then hope a better, faster, more intelligent platform doesn't come along.

Nowadays I'm particularly excited by Powatag, a transactional platform that bridges a user's billing and delivery details with any online shopping site – providing that site has signed up to the service; providing the user has the app and they know what to do with it; providing there's an image or piece of audio that has already been integrated into Powatag’s database, and providing this can be recognised by the Powatag platform.

Powatag has received $100m (£59m) of funding and is about to launch into the mainstream. I hope they quickly generate scale and become a success.

But Amazon is already mainstream and with the Kindle, Amazon has already achieved significant success with hardware, so it knows what it’s doing.

Admittedly, limiting Fire to one carrier (AT&T) appears to be artificially handcuffing their scale, so don’t be surprised if this ends within a year. But if adopted, Firefly has the potential to instantly hijack the high street and make every song, sign, poster and product a point-of-sale opportunity for Amazon.

This obviously has a significant knock-on effect for all media (specifically out of home) and could signal a new era for showrooming.

No round of investor funding can guarantee user adoption, however with 12% share of all UK retail web-traffic (source: Experian) and £4.5bn in UK sales (source: Amazon) we are already adopted sons and daughters of Amazon.

A few years ago, Owl City sang: "You would not believe your eyes, if ten million fireflies, lit up the world… ‘cause they'd fill the open air and leave teardrops everywhere."

This is ultimately what Amazon's going after, and I think they will have success. Only time will tell how many other companies will be crying in their wake.

Richard Simkins is innovations director at Talon

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