As Amazon launches its new Fire phone, Apple cuts the price of its latest iMac

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By Noel Young | Correspondent

June 19, 2014 | 5 min read

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Amazon yesterday introduced a new smartphone with audio and object recognition technology to make it easier for consumers to locate and purchase products and services from them.

Bezos shows off the new Fire phone

The new Firefly feature allows users to take a photo of an object, such as a toaster or a soup can, and get more information about it, including a way to purchase it through Amazon, the world's largest e-commerce company.

Snap a photo of a book, and it'll help you buy it, either as an e-book or a physical copy. Listen to a song playing in the background, and it'll direct you to that tune on Amazon, says the San Jose Mercury News.

It can even direct you to facts and data, by showing a Wikipedia entry with information about a painting you snapped.

The feature will also let you snap bar codes, phone numbers and more.

The new Fire phone also offers the ability to render images in 3-D but doesn't differ much from other smartphones on the market, says the Mercury News.

Many of the new features have been available elsewhere as separate apps. Sony, for instance, has a tool for getting information over the Internet by snapping a bar code or a landmark.

Ramon Llamas of the research firm IDC says, "It goes back to the mission of Amazon, which is to sell you stuff. It reduces the number of steps it takes to buy things on the phone."

The phone’s screen measures 4.7 inches diagonally - smaller than leading Android phone, but larger than the iPhone. CEO Jeff Bezos says the Fire's size is ideal for one-handed use.

The phone will be available July 25 in the U.S. exclusively through AT&T. Prices march other leading high-end phones, but the Fire will have double the storage. It will cost $200 for a base model with 32 gigabytes and $300 for 64 gigabytes. Both require two-year service contracts. Without contracts, they will cost $650 and $750.

As the phone was announced in Seattle, Amazon's stock rose $8.82, or 3 percent, to $334.44 in afternoon trading.

Another distinctive feature is 3-D images. You can rotate the phone and get a different view depending on your angle of vision. CEO Jeff Bezos calls this "dynamic perspective" and said the phone is basically redrawing the image 60 times per second.

To make that happen, the phone has four front-facing infrared cameras to tell where your head is, even if your fingers happen to cover two of them.

That is on top of the regular 2 megapixel front camera for selfies, plus the 13 megapixel one on the rear for regular shots. The rear camera will have image stabilization to counteract shaking as people take shots, something available in other phones as well.

Amazon is offering unlimited free storage of photos on its Cloud Drive service.

The phone will also come with earbuds that have flat cords and magnets to clasp them together. Tangled cords will be history, says the Mercury News.

It will have an auto-scroll feature that lets you scroll down website articles or books by tilting the phone. Samsung's Galaxy phones have that, too.

While Amazon was showing off its new iPhone rival yesterday, Apple introduced a low-end iMac with a smaller price tag.

The new i-mac starts at $1,099, $200 cheaper than the previous cheapest iMac.

But the "entry level" iMac comes with a slower processor, half the hard-drive storage and lesser graphics power than previous low-end Apple PCs.

In its 2013 fiscal year, Apple reported a 10 percent decline in Mac unit sales to 16.3 million, with revenues from those sales falling 7 percent to $21.5 billion.

In the first six months of its current fiscal year, Apple's Mac sales seem to be recovering, with unit sales rising 12 percent and revenues gaining 9 percent.

One surprise: Amazon did not attempt to undercut Apple on price, as it did with its Kindle Fire line of tablets. Apple stock gained 0.1 percent to $92.18 Wednesday, while Amazon shares increased 2.7 percent to $334.38.

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