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Amazon's flop of a phone made newer, better hardware possible

Amazon's flop of a phone made newer, better hardware possible
From Engadget - January 13, 2018

While the Fire Phone was a punchline and a commercial failure, it did lead to good thingseventually. In a conversation with Engadget at CES, Sandeep Gupta, Amazon's Technical Program Manager for Fire TV, suggested that the teams and processes built to make the Fire Phone reality also made possible the impressive hardware ecosystem we now see.

"Building the phone was sort of a trial by fire," Gupta said before groaning at his pun. "It was a very intense product, and we learned so much. And the teams we built from the Fire Phone have helped seed a lot of the other teams. You will see people on the Echo team, the TV team, the tablet team who got their start on the Phone team."

If Amazon's teams learned a lot, it's because they needed to achieve a lot. The Fire Phone was not Amazon's first hardware project; a handful of Kindles came before, not to mention a few Fire tablets and Fire TV set-top boxes. But the Phone presented fresh technical challenges for Amazon to grapple with.

"The phone is, without a doubt, one of the hardest working hardware products you can build," Gupta said. "They are very compact. You have got antennas, you have got an ecosystem, you have got an app store, you have got content services, you have got the whole kit and caboodle."

It did not help that the Fire Phone was designed to be more complex than rival smartphones from the get-go. Four front-facing sensors tried to track the motion of user's heads so some of the images that appeared on-screen would move with them. And since the Fire Phone was intended to be a kind of concierge for Amazon's massive online store, we got Firefly: a feature that allowed people to scan everyday objects around them for identification and eventual purchase. That's one hell of an undertaking, but Amazon powered through despite a relative lack of experience.

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