Services & Software

Amazon: 5 bold predictions for 2014

How will Amazon top online groceries and delivery drones in 2014? The online retail giant might just focus on getting your attention via some new devices.

James Martin/CNET

Amazon spent 2013 attempting to wow us and, for the most part, succeeded.

This year saw the debut of Amazon's Mayday customer service button -- the marquee feature for its newest line of Kindle Fire tablets -- the revival of the US Postal Service through Sunday delivery, and, of course, the frenzy of debate over autonomous flying robots serving as the next-generation of delivery men ahead of Cyber Monday.

Think Amazon out did itself in 2013? Well, get ready for even more eye-popping surprises in 2014.

Known for its willingness to play the long game, Amazon often goes through cycles of large investments before reaping the rewards, and 2014 will be another year when the company "percolates," said NPD analyst Marshal Cohen.

"You can feel that they're getting ready in a year or two to come out with some very big things," he said.

Of course, that won't stop Amazon from introducing more incremental products and services next year as well. But focusing on the next big thing is more fun. Here are five bold ideas we think are most likely bubbling under the surface at Amazon. Sorry, drones not included.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos at the Kindle event last year. If Amazon has a smartphone, it will be cheap because the company wants to make money off what you buy from a device and not the device itself. James Martin/CNET

1. Finally, that smartphone
We may finally see the debut of the long-rumored Amazon smartphone. With so many high-profile smartphones already in the mix, Amazon will need to do a lot to stand out.

Looking to the Kindle Fire tablet as the model, you can expect a smartphone that can quickly tap into the Amazon storefront. Think Amazon's 1-click feature on its Web site is easy? Amazon may make it an even more integral part of the mobile experience.

The Amazon phone would also likely be a media powerhouse -- as long as you're an Amazon Prime customer. The device would have easy access to streaming movies and be able to quickly access your purchased music.

Like it or not, the Amazon smartphone will also likely come preloaded with apps and widgets to help direct customers to its various services, which includes Goodreads, Zappos, Audible, and Kindle.

One other way the Amazon phone could emulate the Kindle Fire: an attractive price. While reports of a free Amazon phone turned out to be wrong, the company could decide to sell the smartphone unlocked at a steep discount.

The strategy has worked for Google and its Nexus 5 phone, which it is selling for $350 unlocked. Amazon could do Nexus 5 one better and offer a $300, or even $250, phone. Amazon has the added benefit of making up any potential losses through the potentially higher rate of transactions conducted on the phone.

With a low price tag, don't expect the hardware to excite anyone. But, you can bet it will be powerful enough and offer a big enough screen to make sure you have a smooth video-viewing experience.

An Amazon service rep responding to a Kindle Fire HD Mayday request. CNET

2. The Kindle, your tutor
Thanks to Mayday, your Kindle Fire can tell you how to change the brightness of your tablet or how to order an e-book. So why couldn't it also teach your kids math?

If Amazon's acquisition of TenMarks is any indication, the company may be looking to delve into education. TenMarks creates math practice programs and is a teaching tool. When Amazon purchased it in October, it said TenMarks would develop new education apps for Kindle tablets.

It's not a huge stretch to see a potential marriage of TenMarks' education resources and the Mayday service -- perhaps a premium option that allows for tutors to help with math equations via one-sided video tutelage?

Crazy? Perhaps. But just crazy enough for Amazon? Certainly.

Couple that with Amazon's newly released free-time features on a tablet designed for penny-pinching parents, and Amazon makes the Kindle the ideal children's tablet.

Actor Ed Begley, Jr. attends the Amazon Studios launch party to celebrate the premieres of 'Alpha House' and 'Betas' at Boulevard3 on November 6, 2013 in Hollywood, Calif. Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Amazon Studios

3. An Amazon show nets an Emmy nomination
This year's Emmy win for Netflix's drama "House of Cards" marked a milestone for Netflix and video-streaming services in general.

Now that its competitor has original content that's been recognized by the TV industry, Amazon wants a little bit of the same respect.

Currently, Amazon Studios is mainly producing comedies, a tough category to crack for the Emmys. These productions have to contend with shows like ABC's "Modern Family" and NBC's "Parks and Recreation," shows that get a lot of viewers from traditional broadcasters but not necessarily a lot of buzz.

What Amazon needs instead is a top-notch drama with A-list celebrities that will get people talking -- its own version of AMC's "Breaking Bad" or Showetime's "Homeland." The company's studios is working on two that may just give it some Emmy buzz: a drama based off a best-selling detective novel and backed by a "The Wire" writer (with "The Wire" actor Lance Reddick rumored to join the cast); and a mysterious thriller from "The X-Files" creator Chris Carter, an Emmy-nominee himself.

Amazon may find that 2014 is the year it earns some cred with Hollywood.

The TV set-top box will probably have a interface similar to the Kindle Fire. Amazon

4. Amazon set to dominate your TV
Amazon is going after tablets, phones, and Hollywood-like movies and TV shows. So it only makes sense to go after the television itself.

Another rumored product from the online giant is a TV set-top box that would stream Internet media. Like the Kindle Fire and rumored smartphone, it would serve as a natural extension of its strategy to get customers looking at its virtual storefront on every device possible.

Although there is a ton of competition in the TV area, from the televisions themselves to connected set-top boxes, Amazon needs to get into the game if it wants to control the total experience.

An Amazon set-top box would have to do more than a Roku or Apple TV box -- and being cheap won't cut it. Google's Chromecast, as limited as it is right now, is already attractively priced at $35.

Amazon, of course, has all of the shows and movies from its Prime streaming service. But other boxes already incorporate Amazon Prime, as well as Netflix and Hulu and other services.

You can expect the Amazon box to emulate the same kind of interface as the Kindle Fire, so the company can tie everything into one ecosystem. Likewise, Amazon is already testing out ways for users to "fling" their streaming video content from the tablet to a TV.

Employees select and dispatch items in the huge Amazon 'fulfilment center' warehouse on November 28, 2013 in Peterborough, England. Oli Scarff/Getty Images

5. Amazon Prime goes mainstream
By 2014, Amazon will be daring its customers not to sign up for its premium Prime service.

Prime members already benefit from free two-day shipping and access to its video-streaming service and Kindle e-book lending library. On the non-Prime side, Amazon recently raised the minimum price for free shipping by $10 to $35. Expect the perks for Prime to get even more attractive in the coming year.

The next year will bring a rapid expansion of the company's online grocery delivery service, AmazonFresh, which also means Amazon is making same-day delivery open to Amazon Prime customers. While online grocery delivery and same-day delivery is tricky business, it encourages customers to buy everythingon Amazon.

If Amazon launches anything new -- like a music-streaming service or a premium personal shopper service -- you can bet Prime members will get unlimited access.

Amazon has steadily built a strong following of customers under Prime, which has specific memberships for college students and parents as well as general memberships.

Prime is a boon to Amazon, as customers not only pay an annual fee, but are also more prone to buy from the Web site.

But with all of these perks, will Amazon have to raise the price? It costs $79 a year now, and CEO Jeff Bezos may test his customers' loyalty with a hike if Amazon keeps expanding its services. For many loyal users, that would be the most jaw-dropping move of them all.

Whether all of these predictions come true or not, Amazon is sure to have some surprises in store for 2014.