I’ve noticed that when Amazon introduces its own spin on an already-established device, it likes to add some new and different feature from right out of left field to distinguish itself from the competition. With e-readers, it was the free 3G service to let people buy e-books and check their mail from anywhere. With the Fire TV it was the extensive gaming focus and voice search. Now, with Amazon’s impending smartphone, it appears to be six cameras and a 3D display. The Boy Genius Report has exclusive photos and more information about the device.
Two of those cameras are the normal front and rear facing ones used for instant photos, video communication, and selfies. But there are four more front-facing infrared cameras at the four corners of the display, which are reportedly meant to enable face-tracking no-glasses-needed 3D.
It should work kind of like those 3D holograms you see, where you see different things if you tilt it one way or another; the cameras watch your face move, and move elements on the screen to match. The idea is apparently that when you’re viewing products on Amazon, you can tilt the screen to view more of the object in 3D.
Amazon is reportedly incorporating 3D elements into all aspects of the Android-derived operating system, so it should look pretty impressive when people finally get their hands on it. Who knows, maybe Amazon will add it to its Kindle app and finally make that Google 3D e-book April Fools Day prank a reality, with words that actually seem to float in the air over the page.
And, as with anything Amazon does, we have no way of knowing the full extent of their plans for this new gizmo. At The Digital Reader, Nate Hoffelder suspects that, since you wouldn’t need the full four cameras for that kind of tracking, Amazon must be planning something pretty special. I personally suspect it’s just so that Amazon can do the same kind of tracking no matter which of the four orientations the phone’s screen is held in, but we’ll see.
Of course, no matter how nifty its features might be, the phone will suffer from the same fundamental flaw as the Fire tablets: the walled garden of Amazon’s not-quite-real-Android ecosystem. The Fire tablets aren’t bad as color e-readers that can do tabletty things, too, but the lockdown to Amazon’s own store and the slowness of some popular apps to make their way into it is a bit of a buzzkill for people who want to do more than that. For example, one of my friends was very annoyed with his Fire a few months back when he found he couldn’t get the popular new video game Plants vs. Zombies 2 on it. And it’s still not available in Amazon’s app store even now.
As might be expected, we’re seeing some mixed reactions. One columnist at Seeking Alpha suggested that the phone “could be a catastrophe for Amazon” because he personally can’t see any reason why having its own smartphone should be a good thing for the company, and the mobile market is notoriously hard for new players to break into. But another Seeking Alpha columnist notes that the news has been a positive catalyst for Amazon’s stock, and having its own smartphone could extend the Amazon ecosystem into a whole new niche. This would be in line with Amazon’s ongoing strategy of using low-margin hardware to push high-margin content.
Other known specs: 4.7” 720P display, Snapdragon processor, 2 GB of RAM, 13 MP rear-facing camera. Beyond that, further information is unclear.
We can’t predict the full extent of the features until the phone is actually announced. Amazon has a history of being full of surprises. I’m sure whatever it does come up with, the Amazon phone will be more than just an ordinary smartphone.