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Amazon launches Fire Phone, takes personal shopping mobile

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 ((AP Photo/Ted S. Warren))

After months of rumor and speculation, Amazon has jumped into the smartphone market with the launch of its eagerly-anticipated Fire Phone.

Most of the hype over the last few months has focused on the device’s 3D capabilities, which Amazon duly delivered at the launch event in Seattle. Shrewdly, though, the online giant has also built a host of features into the Fire Phone that will pull users further into its vast retail empire.

Powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, the Fire Phone has a 4.7-inch screen and will be available exclusively on AT&T when it ships on July 25. Pricing starts at $199 for a 32GB version of the phone with a two-year contract. A 64 GB version will be priced at $299 with a two-year contract. The 32GB and 64GB versions will also be available with zero money down from $27.09 a month and $31.25 a month, respectively, on AT&T's Next 18 plan.

The device’s Firefly feature offers image, text and audio recognition, letting users scan QR and bar codes, Web and email addresses, and over 100 million other items, according to Amazon. This includes movies, TV shows, and song recognition in the style of the popular Shazam app. When Firefly recognizes a song, for example, it taps into the Amazon Music catalog. The retailer says that Firefly can identify 35 million songs.

In addition to movies, TV shows and music, Firefly can recognize 70 million products, including household items, books, DVDs, CDs and video games. Fire Phone users can then access the relevant product details and order them from Amazon.com.

“From the company perspective, given that the their hardware devices make it so easy to purchase content, here’s a brilliant new delivery mechanism that will give Amazon yet another dimension into its already virtually-360 degree view of its customers’ behaviors,” wrote retail expert Robin Lewis, CEO of "The Robin Report" newsletter, in an email to FoxNews.com.

Amazon is also offering a free 12-month membership to its Prime service for Fire Phone customers, further underlining the company’s desire to bring new customers into its world. Existing Prime users will receive an additional 12 months added to their account.  

Additionally, the company is touting free unlimited cloud storage of photos taken with the phone and a ‘mayday’ feature, which establishes a live video link with an Amazon expert to walk users through the phone’s features.

Although initially synonymous with retail goods such as books and DVDs, Amazon has significantly expanded its reach in recent years. From electronic devices such as the Kindle, Amazon Fire TV to the web services and even art sales, the retailer is constantly eyeing new ways to strengthen its customer relationships.

As expected, plenty of attention has been focused on the Fire Phone’s 3D capabilities. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos introduced these features during the launch event, which the company describes as “dynamic perspective”. This gives users the ability to scroll through Web pages by tilting the screen and see different views of products in the Amazon Shopping app. Dynamic perspective could have a big impact in video gaming. Amazon has applied the technology to the Lili game, with users tilting their heads to alter a character’s perspective.

“While the world didn’t think it needed another smart phone, the Fire Phone’s dynamic 3-dimensional perspective is a nifty feature that consumers will probably love,” wrote Lewis.

Amazon, however, faces stiff competition in the smartphone market, where it is up against Apple’s iPhone and a host of Samsung Android devices. Apple is also expected to launch its iPhone 6 later this year, which could increase the pressure on the Fire Phone.