Where did the Fire Phone go wrong? Today in Fast Company, Austin Carr takes a deep look at the question and comes away with the most definitive answer yet. After more than a decade of success, the phone stands as Amazon's biggest misstep and has many analysts questioning whether the company can continue its spectacular growth. After great anticipation, the phone was released to disappointing sales, and many of the executives involved in its development have already left the company. After talking to more than a dozen Amazon employees, Carr puts the failure squarely at the feet of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, suggesting Amazon's hardware development issues may run deeper than previously thought.
"Whenever anyone asked why we were doing this, the answer was, ‘Because Jeff wants it.'"
As Carr tells it, the Fire Phone succumbed to misplaced ambitions and micromanagement from Bezos. Amazon's strength has been value and convenience, but Bezos wanted the Fire Phone to stake out new territory for the company, allowing it to compete with "cool" brands like Apple. As a result, he obsessively monitored the project. "Even the very smallest decisions needed to go through him," one Amazon employee told Carr. By the end, the team had given up building a phone for consumers and shifted building one that would satisfy Bezos's ambitions.
The article describes Bezos' singular focus on features that could set the Fire Phone apart, taking it out of the realm of entry-level phones and into competition with high-end brands. According to Carr, the team considered hands-free interaction systems and a force-sensitive grip as ways to set the phone apart, but ultimately settled on the Fire Phone's much-criticized dynamic perspective feature, which allowed the phone to track a user's face and change perspective depending on the angle of viewing. In the end, the system drove up costs without providing any real utility to the end customer, entirely driven by Bezos. "He had this childlike excitement about the feature and no one could understand why," another insider told FastCo, describing dynamic perspective. "Whenever anyone asked why we were doing this, the answer was, ‘Because Jeff wants it.' No one thought the feature justified the cost to the project. No one. Absolutely no one."