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'The Creator, if He exists, has an inordinate fondness for beetles.' But will we, the consumers, fall in love with the Firefly?

Firefly is a feature of, and button on the side of, Amazon's new Fire smartphone.

Simply put, the feature turns the phone's camera into a visual recognition tool (barcodes, products and the like) and the Fire microphone into an audio recognition tool (think Shazam).

Let's mull over what this might mean.

Inputs

The keyboard will never be obsolete as it is important for privacy and accuracy. But it is problematic.

At 2014's Future of Digital Marketing, Jason Mesut discussed user interfaces and highlighted iOS 8's forthcoming SwiftKey-imitator as a sign that we haven't mastered touchscreens yet. We're still struggling with inputting information to an iPhone after seven years with them.

Siri and Google voice search are now really quite sophisticated. Anecdotally I can tell you that many of my friends use them both regularly. I use voice for text messages on a weekly basis.

But what Apple and Google haven't got is a visual recognition system as sophisticated as Firefly.

Two of the functions include:

  • Text recognition e.g. scanning phone numbers and URLs instead of typing them out.
  • Scanning products and objects (the service recognises 100m!) to identify them or buy them on Amazon.

Are we witnessing the beginning of reduced use for the keyboard?

ui

Death of QR codes!

This is a follow on point from above. Lots of people have been willing them dead for years. Some people believe they are dead.

Will visual recognition develop to the point that no ciphers are required? Well, probably not. Blippar and others already work on this less-obvious-cipher premise. The useful part of codes is that they highlight their own use case.

They can also be produced and discarded easily and frequently. Every object may eventually yield its own webpage or secrets when scanned, but offers/promos/info will still be have to be highlighted.

qr code

A glimpse into more showrooming and more pop-ups

At the Future of Digital Marketing 2014, Barney Loehnis, head of digital, APAC, at Ogilvy talked about how Chinese shoppers take pictures of potential purchases and send them via a messaging app to their devils (five or so closest friends).

These friends will then help make the final decision on what item to purchase.

This kind of connected consumer is changing how physical shopping occurs. Shoppers are already using smartphones in the store. Will more start using this kind of Firefly function, whether it be to showroom and buy from Amazon, or using a brand's own app in a pop-up showroom?

ebay pop-up

The end of Dash?

Amazon Dash is the 'magic' wand used in the home that allows for scanning of barcodes when items run low and said item will be added to your AmazonFresh basket (the shopping version of Prime).

In this post I discussed the wand and posited that perhaps the functionality could be added to a phone. Whilst Firefly might sync in with AmazonFresh, I can see the wand continuing as to me it feels like a fairly sensible use case of the connected device that is family-centric.

Of course, Dash may eventually be eminently affordable and AmazonFresh not a subsription service and also rolled out everywhere.

If this happens (apart from Amazon being very happy indeed) then people without an Amazon phone will want a Dash.

amazon dash

Walled garden or open paradise?

The visual recognition system will apparently be able to recognise art work and bring up Wikipedia pages. This kind of use case suggests that Amazon doesn't plan on being too restrictive with Firefly. Whilst barcodes will undoubtedly lead to Amazon, perhaps all roads won't.

Firefly has an SDK, which is already being taken up by some companies for great use cases. This indicates to me that the feature is going to see decent uptake and possibly get incorporated into lifestyle apps but also into brand apps.

I can imagine IKEA enabling the function to allow a similar function to Dash in a pop-up store or out and about in homes, offices, shops.

It will be interesting to see what demographics buy the Amazon Fire.  It could appeal to the media fanatic as it includes Amazon cloud storage and starts at 32GB as opposed to Apple's 16GB.

The Firefly function will allow the quick sourcing of songs and movies from Amazon Prime Instant Video and Amazon Music.

Non-US markets

Will the Amazon Fire be popular beyond the US? One of the problems of handsets tied defiantly to products and ecosystems - think Facebook phone - is that buyers who aren't already married to these services may be sceptical about the handsets.

Android's success with the consumer is down to how agnostic devices on its operating system feel and how easily users can switch between them. Android spread because of its SDK and then converted users.

The iPhone at launch was only synonymous with good design and a music ecosystem, and at that stage we weren't far enough along with smartphones to judge Apple's entry. Apple continues to exude the opposite of Android - exclusivity and 'a leap'. Indeed, some in emerging markets like China go to extraordinary lengths to save money to purchase one. People prioritise great hardware.

With the Amazon Fire at a similar price point to second generation iPhones, I can't see any functionality that would make one choose Fire. That is unless...

Firefly is a competitive edge?

Will Amazon Fire be legitmately a smartphone for the ubershopper or mum? There's no doubt Firefly is pretty sophisticated. Can it prove useful enough or cool enough to get users to switch?

I think it will hoover up Amazon junkies - those that are Kindle and Amazon Prime devotees. But I also think this might just be a feature that many like the look of and hope that Apple will develop some time soon.

Ben Davis

Published 20 June, 2014 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is a senior writer at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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