In one of the worst-kept secrets in the tech world, online retail giant Amazon finally confirmed what we've all known for a while and officially unveiled its first attempt at a smartphone this week. In a typically glitzy press event in Seattle, chief executive of the firm Jeff Bezos gave the world its first glimpse of the device known as the Fire.
You might wonder what Amazon has any business doing entering a smartphone market already dominated by the likes of Apple and Samsung – companies that have had years to perfect their designs and learn what customers want. And even for a firm with the huge resources and international reach of Amazon, coming into such a fiercely competitive market for the first time has surely got to be a tough ask, hasn't it?
Well hold on, because Amazon does have a few things going for it. To start with, it's not exactly a complete novice when it comes to mobile devices, as it's already made a mark in the tablet market with its Fire brand of items. The latest of these, the seven-inch Fire HD, competes well with other rivals, boosted by a highly-attractive selling price and easy integration with other Amazon services such as e-books and its Prime Instant Video.
And with the Fire phone, it's not content to just sit back and follow where other manufacturers have already paved the way, as Amazon is promising several key exclusive features than it's hoping will make buyers think twice the next time they're looking to upgrade from their existing handset.
Dynamic Perspective – A new way to interact
At the heart of the Fire is its four front-facing cameras. This might seem a little excessive for all but the most selfie-obsessed buyers, but they're not for snapping images of yourself and your mates – they're actually part of the Fire's innovative 3D-like display system. The 'ultra-low power' cameras and associated infrared LEDs are used to keep track of where a user's eyes are in relation to the phone, meaning that users can explore items on the screen by tilting their handset – or their head.
In the launch demo, Mr Bezos showed how this could be used when online shopping, for instance, to explore how a dress' design looks from different angles, while it could also help navigate maps by letting users peer around the side of landmarks.
As well as making apps and games more immersive, Amazon stated this will enable users to make one-handed gestures to control their device, making interacting with a phone more intuitive. It said: "With auto-scroll, customers can read a long web page or a book without ever having to touch the screen; tilt in Amazon Music shows song lyrics; swivel instantly reveals quick actions; peek in Maps shows layered information like Yelp ratings and reviews."
Firefly – Illuminate your world
Another key feature of the device is the Firefly button, which users can press in order to bring up instant information on movies, music, books and more. As you'd expect from the world's largest entertainment retailer, Amazon can recognise hundreds of thousands of films and TV episodes instantly, and can integrate with resources like IMDb to provide users with detailed information.
Aa well as listening out for music and video, the button can also be used to read printed text such as signs, posters, magazines and business cards, which the company says will help consumers make a call, send an email, save details as a contact, or go to a website without typing out long URLs or email addresses.
Unsurprisingly, it's not just about being helpful – Amazon also wants you to buy more goods from it, so the feature is linked in to its website. You can add songs or video content you see to your wish list direct from the device, as well as find 70 million products, including household items, books, DVDs, CDs, video games, and more, on Amazon.com and place an order.
What do the analysts think?
The assembled journos and tech experts who gathered for the launch were quick to offer their opinions on the new device, and the general consensus seems to be the technology on offer looks impressive, though questions were raised over the high price and strong emphasis on shopping integration.
Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart, for instance, suggested to VentureBeat that the device could effectively be seen as a "vending machine" for Amazon's online store, while Gizmodo said: "The biggest impression one's left with is that Amazon poured the bulk of its resources into the part of the Fire phone – that's Firefly – that makes it easiest for you to buy things from Amazon."
However, BBC technology writer Richard Taylor suggested Firefly's media recognition tools may prove "immediately useful for many users", while he added Amazon has created a device with "wow factor" that should help it stand out from its rivals.