By now, a couple months after Amazon’s announcement that they were releasing a smart phone, you’ve surely heard the story from many angles:  Amazon has found another way to potentially get millions more people into its shopping cart through mobile;  Amazon will hook millions of phone buyers into becoming new members of Prime by giving a free year of membership; and Firefly, the Fire Phone’s object recognition function (up to “100 million items”), will take showrooming to a whole new level.

Firefly, Bringing You to Amazon

But wait.  There is a less reported side to the story (or perhaps just a less sensational one), and it presents an area of opportunity.  Amazon is not only releasing Firefly, it is opening it up to third parties.  They have created a software development kit, an SDK as it is known to app developers, which will allow access to all of Firefly’s features and functions.  As Techcrunch and others have noted, “included in the SDK are text, audio and image recognizers, content databases and support for custom actions allowing developers to bend Firefly to their own personal needs.”

Where can you go with this?  In Jeff Bezos’s demonstration, he scanned a jar of Nutella using Firefly and a copy of Moby Dick, identified some movies, and even recognized a song being played.  Of course, the idea for Amazon is that this will largely lead to downloads and purchases on Amazon.  After scanning that jar of Nutella, one option will surely be for you to pop it into an Amazon cart and buy.  But this is not the whole story.  Images of phone numbers will allow you to make a call, images of text on a poster or billboard will allow you to save a contact or to search, or head to another Website (shock – away from Amazon!).  Images of art, or the natural world – flowers, trees, animals – could lead you to a Wikipedia page, a museum page, or perhaps the page of some non-profit.  The work that Amazon has done opens up new ways for companies to capitalize on image and text recognition in ways that weren’t as practical before.

Firefly, Taking You Outside of Amazon

An example that Amazon provides in its developer notes is illuminating in some respects.  As they outline, you could develop an app that recognizes a musical artist and then determines where live performances are taking place near you.  You could expand this idea to having exclusive content, products, or experiences created and available based on endless combinations:  musical artist + venue = restaurant/bar within 1 mile and special offer for each event night; or musical artist + venue = customized licensed goods available for pre-order.

Early App Development

Two early Firefly app developers have been cited by Amazon and widely in the media, MyFitnessPal will allow you to scan food and get nutrition information, and Vivino will allow you to scan bottles of wine and get help in choosing the right one for the right occasion.  Clearly then, some options in the tool kit are Amazon-focused, but not all.

Amazon Generating Fresh Competition?

Outside of Amazon, the ideas may flow just as fast, if not faster.  In order to compete, every innovation lab in the country is likely to discuss the implications of the Fire Phone, and Firefly in particular.  A few examples stand out for me.  People have been talking about in-store/super local GPS and iBeacon technology and how that might enhance the brick-and-mortar retail or location-based Ecommerce experience.  After all, to counter showrooming or the idea that consumers are using their smartphones in stores to buy *elsewhere* online, retailers have to find ways to encourage people to use their phones in store for their own purposes.  A classic example is a coupon-to-phone offer popping up when you arrive at a CVS drugstore, to make sure you buy an item while in the store.

New Ideas For Commerce

Another company with a fresh idea is MinerApp.  Their spin is to have Ecommerce pop-up stores appear on your phone while at a concert or sporting event (using GPS) – exclusive merchandise, limited time price, add to cart now.  They are young but growing.  It brings online shopping to entirely new places and makes it easy to buy using mobile.  Why not personalize this and have pop-up stores for your bridal shower with your entire registry available to buy during the party itself?  Or conference-related buys within a convention hall?  Or room service orders popping up for you to place while in your hotel room – cocktails, anyone?

Transporting the Customer to Your Retail Store

A personal favorite (!) is a business I co-founded called Dharcy.  We are trying to do the flipside of the expected, and offer tools to brick-and-mortar retailers to “transport” their customers to them online.  Envision a salesperson at Macy’s or Barneys connected to you (you could be at home or at work, in New York or in Beijing) in a live commerce experience.  Without telling too much here, you will be able to buy live – it’s both truly online and truly in store.  The future?  A solid play to counter the continued growth of Amazon?  I hope so on both counts!  We are testing and seeking out major retail partners in New York City this Summer.  Don’t miss out, contact me if you’re interested.

In short, the Fire Phone may bring Amazon tremendous new business, but it may just as well spur innovation and creativity in the commerce world at large.  What do you think?

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