Unflattering news you may have missed due to yesterday’s Apple event noise

Apple events are the gifts that keep on giving. It’s handy for us tech bloggers because it gives us a chance to dust off our Easy-Bake Ovens and cook up a batch of hot takes on developments that will impact many sectors of tech for at least the next nine months.
It’s also handy for any non-Apple company that wants to make an unflattering or unpopular news announcement in under the media and the public’s radars.
I mean, just look at the resources that go into covering Apple’s events. It seems like most publications run liveblogs, which vary from serious transcriptions of whatever’s happening onstage to off-key banter that’s barely related to Apple. Then there are the photos, the longer posts, the columns, the features… phew. The rest of the world seems to stop when Apple takes the stage.
For instance, we observed three instances where unflattering news announcements by non-Apple companies coincided with yesterday’s media event. (For the record, we don’t know if it was intentional, but the timing was definitely convenient, regardless.)
First was the news that 21st Century Fox has acquired a majority stake in National Geographic, the iconic magazine run by a nonprofit organization for more than a century. Fox will own 73 percent of the National Geographic Group and reportedly plans to turn the flagship magazine into a for-profit venture.
People are understandably worried about how this new ownership might change National Geographic. Some are concerned about Rupert Murdoch’s personal views coloring the magazine’s coverage; others are worried that Fox’s habit of misleading viewers could transfer to the centenarian publication.
Then there was the announcement that Intel plans to stop supporting the Science Talent Search, an annual competition in which high school seniors compete for prizes, it has sponsored since 1998. (The event itself dates back to 1942 — not as old as National Geographic, but still fairly well established.)
The society behind the Science Talent Search is looking for a new sponsor now . It seeks $6 million annually and a five-year commitment. Intel plans to keep its sponsorship going until 2017; after that the company’s checkbook will close.
And finally there was the death of a much younger entity: Amazon’s Fire Phone — a giant black eye for Amazon’s otherwise successful push into gadget-making. The pet project that never managed to catch on despite rock bottom pricing, access to all of Amazon’s content stores, and a heavy marketing push is done.
Amazon revealed yesterday that it has sold through its entire stock of Fire Phones — despite all odds — and that it doesn’t plan to make any more of them. That doesn’t come as much of a surprise given the phone’s lack of popularity, but the company’s decision to announce that the same day the new iPhones came out seems to indicate just a little bit of shame about the product’s failure.
For all of the panache shown on Apple’s stage and the company’s ability to drum up desire for new products with just a quick presentation, sometimes it’s more fun to see what other companies are trying to bury (intentionally or otherwise) during those keynotes.

Jeff Bezos was the driving force behind Amazon’s Fire Phone flop

It’s no secret that Amazon’s first smartphone has been a commercial and critical flop. But a new article in Fast Company details just how involved CEO Jeff Bezos was in the planning and execution of the Fire Phone debacle. The phone was his baby.

At one point during the Fire Phone development process, Jeff Bezos reportedly “spent a month” working from Amazon’s R&D offices in California, functioning as the phone’s “product manager,” according to Fast Company, citing employees who have since left [company]Amazon[/company].

In fact, Bezos was reportedly the driving force behind the Fire Phone’s Dynamic Perspective, a bold gimmick that simulates a 3D interface on a smartphone screen with the help of four front-facing cameras and some nifty facial recognition technology.

Although the feature, which cost “surreal amounts of money” to develop, ended up making it onto the Fire Phone, the four cameras kill battery life, and ultimately Dynamic Perspective probably isn’t the “Fire Phone’s version of Siri,” as Bezos had hoped. As the tech press pointed out when the Fire Phone launched, there just isn’t much you can do with it besides gaming.

In Bezos’ defense, Dynamic Perspective was in fact the one feature that no other handset could match. It just isn’t a good feature.

Apparently, during the development process, a stripped-down, basic phone prototype was produced. This phone was supposed to be extremely cheap — perhaps even included free with a Prime subscription. Bezos spiked it in favor of the phone that eventually launched, which was initially priced the same as the Apple iPhone — surprising people coming from a company that (almost) always prices its products aggressively. After two price cuts, the Fire Phone now costs $200 without a contract.

Amazon’s R&D department, called Lab126, is in Sunnyvale and Cupertino, California — over 800 miles away from Amazon’s corporate headquarters in Seattle, but in a better location for poaching hardware talent from companies like Apple. Although it’s where all of Amazon’s hardware is designed, from the first Kindle to other experiments like Dash and Echo, it increasingly appears to be disconnected from Amazon’s older e-commerce and AWS departments. Fast Company reported yesterday that Lab126 is undergoing a big reorganization, with two executives who worked closely on the Fire Phone leaving the company.

Both stories are worth a read.

Amazon’s Fire Phone is now cheap: $199 without a contract

The fire sale of the Fire Phone, Amazon’s first smartphone, continues. On Tuesday night Amazon quietly cut the price again, this time bringing the entry-level 32GB model down to $199. That’s for an unlocked phone without a contract.

You can expect the next Amazon Fire Phone to be less expensive

Amazon’s first phone hasn’t exactly been a runaway success — and Amazon’s blaming its pricing. In an interview with Fortune, Amazon SVP of devices David Limp said that Amazon “didn’t get the price right.” When the Fire Phone debuted, it cost essentially the same as an iPhone: $200 on a 2-year AT&T contract, odd for a company which thrives on undercutting its competition. Later, Amazon dropped the price by $200 across the board. Limp hinted that there will be future Fire Phones, and Amazon is going to “keep iterating software features to get it better and better,” most likely at a lower price next time, just like it did with its Kindle products.

Amazon Fire Phone gets a $200 price cut, to $0.99 with two-year contract

Amazon Fire PhoneAmazon’s first smartphone, the Fire Phone, may not be a runaway sales success, but don’t count it out yet: It’s about to get a lot cheaper. Amazon announced on Monday that it is reducing the price of its ambitious smartphone $0.99 with a 2-year AT&T contract. The price cut also applies to Fire Phones off-contract, which now cost $450 for a 32 GB model, down from $650. Sure, the Fire Phone hasn’t been especially well-liked, but at its new mid-range price it represents a different value proposition, especially considering it still comes with a free year of Amazon Prime (normally worth $99). Amazon also announced that it would begin selling the Fire Phone in the UK and Germany.