SEATTLE (AP) — Amazon has introduced a new smartphone that will be closely tied to the products and services it sells, while adding such touches as the ability to render images in 3-D.
The Fire phone will share many characteristics found in other Amazon devices. The home screen will have a carousel of recently accessed apps, for instance. There’s also X-Ray for supplemental content and Mayday for live tech support.
Competing won’t be easy, though. Amazon is arriving late to a tightly contested marketplace. Samsung and Apple dominate worldwide smartphone sales with a combined 46 percent share, according to IDC. And in the U.S., Apple leads with more than 37 percent, with Samsung at nearly 29 percent.
Amazon has tried to chip away at Apple’s top position in the tablet market with its Kindle Fire HDX tablet, which beats the iPad Air’s screen resolution and is lighter and cheaper. Still, the iPad dominates the category while Amazon has seen its market share shrink from 7 percent in 2012 to 2 percent in the first quarter of this year.
As the phone was announced in Seattle, Amazon’s stock rose $8.82, or 3 percent, to $334.44 in afternoon trading.
Here’s a look at the new phone:
A close-up of the new Amazon Fire smartphone displaying the app grid
SPECS AND FEATURES:
— With a new Firefly feature, snap a photo of a book title, and it’ll show you where to buy it. Listen to a song playing in the background, and it’ll direct you to that tune on Amazon. It can even direct you to knowledge, such as pulling up a Wikipedia entry on a painting you snapped. The feature will also let you snap bar codes, phone numbers and more.
— The phone is smaller than leading Android phone, but larger than Apple’s iPhone. CEO Jeff Bezos calls the screen, measuring 4.7 inches diagonally, ideal for one-handed use.
— Bezos touts the camera on the new phone. He says it has image stabilization to counteract shaking as people take shots. Amazon is offering unlimited free storage on its Cloud Drive service.
— The phone will come with earbuds that have flat cords and magnets to clasp them together, so tangled cords will be history.
— Bezos says images are typically flat — and Amazon wants to change that. You can rotate the phone around and get a different view depending on your angle of vision. He says the phone is basically redrawing the image 60 times per second. Bezos calls this “dynamic perspective.”
— To make that happen, the phone has four front-facing infrared cameras to tell where your head is, even if your fingers happen to cover two of them.
— There’s an auto-scroll feature that lets you scroll down by tilting the phone. Samsung’s Galaxy phones have that, too.
— Amazon’s Kindle tablets run a highly modified version of Google’s Android system, and it’s likely an Amazon phone would do the same. That means apps for the phone would be limited to what’s available through Amazon’s own app store. The store has grown to include more than 240,000 apps, but there’s much more for Android and Apple devices.
— AT&T will be the exclusive carrier for the new phone. It’s a similar approach to what Apple took when it unveiled its first iPhone in 2007. AT&T had exclusive rights to the iPhone in the U.S. until 2011, when Verizon and eventually others got it, too.
— The phone will be available July 25. People can start ordering them Wednesday at $200 for a base model with 32 gigabytes and $300 for 64 gigabytes. Both require two-year service contracts.
— The phone comes with 12 months of Prime membership, which is normally $99 a year. Existing Prime members will get their term extended.
NOT A FIRST:
— Facebook once tried to release a phone tied to its services. The HTC First, released in April 2013, came with Facebook’s Home software, which takes over the phone’s front screen to present status updates, messages and other content. Both the phone and the software flopped.
— Google also has its own phones under the Nexus brand, mostly to showcase its Android operating system. Google makes Android available for free for any phone manufacturer to use and modify. That makes it difficult to know what’s really Android and what’s a modification.
PAST FORAYS INTO GADGETS:
— Amazon’s first gadget was a Kindle e-reader, released in 2007. Although there are plenty of devices that do more, many people still prefer stand-alone e-book readers because they typically have better screens for reading in direct sunlight and don’t have distractions such as Facebook and email.
— The company started making Kindle Fire tablets in 2011. The latest models, HDX, are notable for a Mayday help button that accesses live tech support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You see the representatives in a video box, but they can only hear you and see what’s on your screen. They can also help guide you by placing orange markers on your screen or taking control of your device completely.
— In April, Amazon released its Fire TV streaming devices. What sets it apart from rival gadgets is a voice search feature that lets you speak the title, actor, director or genre into your remote to get matching content on the TV.
The Full App is a great app for your bucket list, helping you add experiences and goals to your life. Full lets you add goals you want to accomplish for each month, the app then helps you track, measure, and visualize what´s important to you, all displayed in a beautifully designed and intuitive interface, with circular graphics "filling up” as you make progress toward your goals. Fulls true purpose is not about getting things done, but about filling up your life.
Noisli is a beautifully designed app that generates background noise and color for working and relaxing. The minimal app follows the success of the popular web version already being used by coders, programmers, bloggers, writers, students and translators during work. As with the web version, the app lets you play and mix sounds such as rain, wind, fire, water stream…even a coffee shop! you can then create and save your very own background stream to work with or relax to. Noisli also supports offline playback and features a handy timer so you can set a time to fade out the audio.
Put another way by Dre himself, he could be “The first billionaire in hip-hop, right here from the mother-f$%&*#$ West Coast, believe it!” (see GIF below)
Dre’s words are from the video below posted to Tyrese Gibson’s Facebook and came within hours of the Apple-Beats news. In the video, featuring a group of “homies drunk off of Heineken,” Tyrese calls his crew the “billionaires boys club,” saying “the Forbes list just changed” and needs to be “updated,” before Dre makes his monetary boast.
The Forbes list in question came out last month and saw Sean “Diddy” Combs topping annual survey with $700 million in earnings, due in large part to his deals with Ciroc and his recently-launched Revolt.tv. Second on the list is Dr. Dre at $550 million, thanks to his stake in Beats. The company controls two thirds of the premium headphone market, according to Forbes, and has annual sales in excess of $1 billion.
Beats Electronics is a privately held company and therefore does not have to make detailed financial information public. Companies only have to make that information available when they register for IPOs, according to SEC regulations.
Dre’s stake in Beats is estimated to be in the 20-25% range. If he were to earn that amount directly from the $3.2 billion sale his take would be somewhere between $640 million and $800 million, before taxes. With that amount, combined with his earnings of $550 million last year as well as his other income streams (album sales, publishing royalties, his work with HP laptops) the hip-hop legend would be very close to a net worth of a billion dollars.
So: If the deal doesn’t make Dre the first hip-hop billionaire, it definitely puts him close to it. It ain’t nothing but a many, many Gs thang.
During its f8 developer conference Wednesday, Facebook introduced new tools designed to make mobile navigation, sharing, and advertising a smoother experience, while enabling seamless communication among third-party apps and Facebook itself. Music was featured often during the presentation, with app developers Spotify, Rdio, Vevo, iHeartRadio, Soundcloud, and Mixcloud among those namechecked.
Among the new introductions were:
- AppLinks, an open-source, open-standards kit that allows apps to link to each other directly using a bit of code. It’s designed to prevent the snags mobile users experience when linking from one app to another. (Goodbye, stopover in the default web browser.) All the music apps named above were featured in the demo, along with photo and video apps such as Flickr, Hulu and Vimeo, along with the likes of Pinterest, Dropbox, and Facebook itself. Presenter Ilya Sukhar also said Spotify is working with live-music events site Songkick to use AppLinks to sell concert tickets.
- A new mobile ‘Like’ button for third-party apps, knocking down a key barrier between the desktop and the on-the-go experience. The iOS version is ready now, and the company promised that an Android edition is on the way. Ime Archibong, a self-described “music guy” at Facebook, used Rdio as part of the demonstration.
- Facebook Audience Network, or FAN, a mobile advertising platform. Asexpected, third-party developers can now use FAN to sell ads rather than sell them on their own. Mobile advertising already accounts for 59 percent of Facebook’s overall ad revenue, according to its latest quarterly announcement; the new network figures to boost that number even further by extending its advertising reach further.
- Anonymous Login, a feature that will permit consumers to test apps without sharing their own Facebook credentials. CEO Mark Zuckerberg also said Facebook will give users more privacy and sharing options to control what personal data app developers receive.
- New app-building tools on the Parse platform, which Facebook acquired last spring. Freshly unveiled were new tools for offline interactivity and an analytics kit. At the May 2013 SF MusicTech Summit, Archibong told an audience that music developers could use Parse as a back end for new apps.
A full list of Facebook’s newly introduced tools and services can be found here.
Clark Kokich has built a career helping brands master digital technology. So it’s only fitting that Kokich, the chief strategy officer at Marchex, former Razorfish CEO, and author of Do or Die, has created 20/20, the world’s first narrative live-action short film shot with Google Glass. The five-minute movie, which follows a day in the life of a young man through his Google Glass, makes a powerful statement about personal privacy and the power that technology assumes in our everyday lives. For as long as I’ve known him, Clark Kokich has always been fascinated with the way that digital technology can both disrupt and shape the way we live and do business.
20/20: romance competes with technology. Which will win?
In the following interview, he discusses the themes of 20/20 (a product of his film company, Perché No?) what it was like to make a movie with Google Glass, and his views on technology and privacy (including his opinion of Edward Snowden). Check out what’s on his mind — but more importantly, take five minutes to watch the provocative 20/20. This movie will make you think.
What inspired you to make this movie?
Last spring I was having coffee with Margaret Czeisler, global vice president of the Razorfish xLab. She pulled out a Google Glass for me to try. It was the first time I fully understood the power of the technology. Then, as I was driving home, the idea for the film just popped into my head. I more or less wrote it in my mind in the car and typed it up when I got home.
In the movie, Google Glass is omnipresent, and not always for the best. Where do you think Google Glass is headed in the next few years?
It’s hard to say. I used to work at Code-A-Phone, a company that made telephone answering machines. Remember those? Our biggest issue was confronting the backlash from people who became pissed off when they had to leave a recorded message.
In the 1990s, I worked for Cellular One. At that time, cell phones were regarded as a smug status symbol. “What kind of an asshole takes a call in their car?” We’re seeing that kind of backlash right now with Google Glass. And I suppose this film doesn’t help, does it? But who knows what will happen.
In the end, if the technology solves a real problem, people will get over it. Right now, I don’t think Google Glass solves an obvious problem in the same way answering machines and cell phones did.
The movie’s subtext about spying is obviously quite timely, with Edward Snowden recently speaking at the 2014 SXSW Interactive festival. What’s your view of Snowden? Hero or a traitor?
I do think he broke the law, and there should be consequences for that. But I don’t consider him a traitor. If I had to guess, 50 years from now he’ll be regarded as an important historical figure; someone who took a huge risk – and sacrificed everything – so that the rest of us could know what the hell is really going on.
I could relate to the scene where the protagonist is multi-tasking too much with technology at the expense of the people in the room with them. How do you avoid that happening in your own life?
I’m actually pretty good about that. I’ve never used technology just because it’s new and cool. I can admire it, and want to learn more, but I’m not an automatic adopter. I also think it’s important to be doing the things that are important to you, not that are important to others. For instance, if I’m on the road, I don’t answer emails on my phone just because they came in. My fingers are too big for that kind of nonsense. If something’s critically important, maybe. But for the most part, I decide what’s important to get done right now, and I only concentrate on that. Just ignore everything else.
What was it like shooting a movie in Google Glass? What did the experience teach you?
It was a pain in the ass. We tried to monitor the shooting in real time through an iPhone, but doing so was too clumsy. So we ended up shooting a scene with no idea what we were really getting. Then we had to wait to download the file and check it on the computer. If there was a problem, you had to start over. It took forever.
What’s next for your filmmaking?
We’re going to shoot another short this summer. This one is more serious. No more Google Glass fun and games.
“It’s not about fitting in, it’s about standing out.”
So goes Ben Horowitz’s theory of music and, judging by the tone of his (very) recent book, “The Hard Thing About Hard Things,” his theory on much more than just music. The co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, which has become one of the most successful venture capital firms in Silicon Valley since its founding in 2009 managing $2.5 billion in investments from Rap Genius to Twitter, Horowitz has been on a whirlwind promotional tour, from New York to Arizona to Austin, Texas in the span of a week.
Fresh off a chat with Nas (yes, Nas) given to the Austin Convention Center’s largest room, we caught up with the fascinating, frank mogul while en route to one of many industry events he had planned for his time in Austin.
Billboard: The biggest question I have, is the problems in the music tech space, in terms of drawing investors or innovations.
Ben Horowitz: Oh yeah, very problematic. There’s a couple problems. One is the history — you know, venture capitalists put in a lot of money, the labels sue the company and the company goes away. That’s pretty rough. And then the very tight, central control of the content makes it so the leverage is with the content owners, which makes it scary. Now, there are guys who have seemingly started to break through, and we have an investment in a company called Rap Genius that kind of starts with music and then expands beyond it, and by doing that it makes it much more investable.
You mean with their annotation technology?
Annotating everything. Because other areas are just easier to license, and music is notoriously difficult.
It’s pretty hermetically sealed on a vast scale.
A vast scale, and in a way that’s weirdly disconnected from the artists. If you talk to the Spotify guys, they’re like, ‘We’re delivering a lot of money.’ If you talk to the artists they’re like ‘We never get any money.’ So either somebody’s lying or somebody’s getting all the money in between the artist and the company.
Is this why you or Andreessen Horowitz haven’t invested in more music tech companies?
That’s basically what keeps us away. Just uncertainty with the music labels, for sure.
Do you think Bitcoin could play a part in reinvigorating that space?
There’s a real interesting technical possibility — well there’s a few: One is just more ability for an artist to go direct. A very difficult problem for an artist selling directly is taking credit cards. The biggest kind of fee is going to end up being the credit card and the largest number of people being turned away is going to be due to fraud risk. Bitcoin gets around those. And particularly internationally it has some interesting properties there. But more interestingly, Bitcoin is a way to transfer, not copy, but transfer, a piece of digital property from one owner to another. And that’s never been possible. So all the [past] DRM solutions, the issue was you could copy them but nobody ever knew where the copy came from . But at least it’s theoretically possible now to basically have serial numbers by track, and you would know who the owner of the track was. And if somebody who had it wasn’t the owner, they clearly would have stolen it. And that’s never been possible to detect in any meaningful way.
How do you think traditional music executive have handled the ‘hard things’ in the last 15 years?
I wrote a post called ‘Why We Prefer Founding CEOs‘ and that’s, I think, a huge problem with the music industry, is that the guys who started the businesses either sold out or died. And the new guys left. So when technology changed the new guys were like way, way, way reluctant to innovate against it. It’s really ironic in music because the whole industry was started with the invention of the vinyl record, and the length of songs changed when they improved the vinyl record technology and the whole business was re-birthed on the CD. So for them to get caught with their pants completely down around their ankles on the next technological shift — it’s kind of ironically tragic. And there were obviously many opportunities to handle it better than they did.
There was a moment, right before the labels decided they wanted to shut Napster down, where they were negotiating with Napster. And if you could rewind history and say ‘Ok, what if they had done that deal?’ It would have been very, very interesting in that everybody was on Napster. So it was the most convenient thing. The big thing that the labels did is that they tried to make all the convenient ways of getting music illegal, and the most inconvenient ways — like crack a CD open and pull it out and all that — legal. So it was more than just free or not-free, it was a product problem. And I think the product problem was way underestimated, bigger than the free or not-free thing. So if they had just made Napster for money, it probably would have been a 90-10 to the labels and not a 70-30 [Apple's iTunes store takes 30% off the top of most sales]. It would have just been a better outcome for sure than what they ended up doing. And in talking to the Napster people, it sure sounded like it broke down at least partially over Napster wanting to track what every artist had sold and report it, and the labels did not want them to do that.
It shocked the shit out of me when I heard it.
That’s a large part of what we do at Billboard.
So the question is, right — and you guys have to do it the hard way — but there it was, perfect record of every sale.
And you would think the companies would want that anyways.
Unless they’re stealing the money…
You think that’s true?
The more I talk to people in the music industry, the more that seems like it’s potentially, viably true. But I don’t know if that’s true.
What’s an upcoming, music-focused tech company or innovation you’re interested in?
This isn’t necessarily one that would be a venture-backed thing, but Ryan Lesliehas a kind of new theory on how to do music distribution. I was very impressed with his thinking. He’s an artist, a very well-respected musician and rapper, but hasn’t necessarily had a giant mega-platinum career, but he has a very good idea for a company.
Which is… like Soundcloud?
Not like Soundcloud, it’s much more like, ‘How does an individual artist make money in today’s world?’ So it’s kind of rethinking what a label would be if you invented it tomorrow.
And that’s on the immediate horizon?
Yes he’s working on it now.
Now an easy question: What’s been your favorite rap record over the last couple years? It’s been an interesting time in rap.
The last couple of years? I’d have to say “Yeezus,” if I”m being honest. I could make something up, but that was my actual favorite.
Beats Music’s Chief Executive Ian Rogers on Tuesday announced his company is acquiring Topspin Media, a platform that lets artists sell merchandise and albums directly to fans.
Rogers, who had left his position as CEO of Topspin a year ago to join Beats, announced the deal in ablog post, saying, “The acquisition brings a team of talented people who have spent years working on building and fine-tuning the artist-to-fan connection into the Beats Music experience. Topspin + Beats Music combines music discovery and direct relationships between artists and fans in a revolutionary way.”
Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Beats Music declined to comment further beyond Rogers’ post.
After a year of watching artists bash streaming music for not paying enough to musicians, Beats Music launched its service in January with an eye toward positioning itself as a service that is friendly to artists, a message that Rogers re-iterated in his blog.
“We’re committed to establishing Beats Music as a conduit for the artist-fan relationship, a platform where artists have a voice, and a provider of useful data and analytics on how fans interact with artists and their music,” Rogers wrote. “This acquisition puts our money where our mouth is.”