Given my history with webOS devices I think I enjoy a good retrospective of what went wrong on the way to getting a device out to market (given the fantastic engineers and people involved) more than the average bear.
The “Under Fire” piece on the story of the Fire Phone is an interesting one.
Who knows which details are true or not. There is also more information than can ever be sleuthed by a reporter, but if we take the high level claims as truth then there is one piece that I find especially interesting, and that is around the branding:
Bezos had profound reasons for preferring a top-of-the-line smartphone. Multiple sources indicate that the premium phone represented a “repositioning of the brand away from being so utilitarian and toward becoming more of a lifestyle brand like Apple,” as the high-ranking Lab126 designer phrases it. Bezos expressed some of these sentiments himself in a memo he wrote years ago, entitled “Amazon.love.” In the memo, first revealed by journalist Brad Stone in The Everything Store, Bezos describes his vision to transform Amazon into a brand such as Apple, Nike, or Disney, which are “widely loved by their customers, and are even perceived as cool.”
Amazon is famous for not making a profit and playing a very long game. Apple is famous for building revolutionary products that consumers adore, often as art. The profit margins are huge and Apple has thus become able to have quite a war chest.
There is a burden that Apple carries though, and that is the burden of expectation. When Apple comes out with a new product it has to be revolutionary else it is a let down. From iMac to iPod to iPhone, the next thing better be amazing. What a bar for the Apple Watch when it comes out, or whatever is in the wings. The iPhone 6 is arguably the best phone ever made, but it was still “incremental” in many eyes (that didn’t stop everyone from picking one up!).
A great team would rather have a high bar to push themselves to build the best possible product. In many ways it is a true “good problem to have”, but what about if Amazon wasn’t fixated on changing the brand to be something it isn’t (yet) and instead leaned in to that brand in the short term and baby stepped its way to the future?
If Amazon is about great customer experiences with great prices then why not build that. Make a rock solid device at a fantastic price. Within the Android ecosystem there is plenty of room for this device to exist, and if the team is focused on that vs. getting cameras working to watch your head the better everyone would be for it.
Enjoy that the bar is lower than it is for Apple right now, and get a few more jumps in. The company has shown patience for the long game, so no need to put the bar too high on the first go around.
The part that would scare me the most (if true) is:
“We poured surreal amounts of money into it, yet we all thought it had no value for the customer, which was the biggest irony. 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.”
Here is where the customer-centric plot seemed to be lost, and where you see a lesson of going against your own gut due to the long shadow of a legend?
NOTE: It probably doesn’t need to be said that I have a huge amount of respect for Jeff Bezos and the people at his company for what they accomplish. This post is more for me looking for lessons.