Rumors of an Amazon smartphone have been around for ages, but they got a good spin earlier this year when the Wall Street Journal said Amazon really was working on a phone, and that it had some kind of strange "3-D" quality. Now more details have emerged that suggest Amazon's back room chaps are busy working on two phones--one being the same "3-D" device mentioned before, and one being a far cheaper and simpler device.
According to TechCrunch, the high-end device is codenamed "Smith" and it doesn't have a 3-D screen. Instead, it has a display that moves to "give the impression" of 3-dimensional depth and motion. If that sounds familiar, then it should--Apple's new iOS 7 has a very similar throwaway feature in its iPhone backdrop animations, one that is allegedly, perhaps exaggeratedly, making some folks feel sick. But where Apple's interface movements are subtle and cued by the iPhone's motion sensors, Amazon's device is said to have four forward-looking cameras that monitor the head and eye movements of the phone's user. Data from this tracking then moves the interface to match the user's point of view.
The tech also recognizes the user's face and only cues its movements to that, to prevent tracking nearby folk and causing what could be some very disturbing optical effects. Amazon's also said to be planning to use the recognition system to spot and identify objects, and then to take the user to a relevant page in Amazon's online store in case they wish to purchase one. The phone is said to be running a heavily modified version of Android, and the additional cost and complexity of the hardware would be offset by tricks like tempting the user to buy more Amazon stuff--bang in line with the company's odd business model (a version of which has recently caused the French to slap Amazon's wrist for unfair business practices).
Amazon's cheaper device is said to be more basic. It runs a version of Android that is more similar to the Kindle Fire's FireOS. Reportedly, the device is almost ready, and Amazon would like to release it this year.
Does this all make sense? Yes, of course. From what we know of big firms in Amazon's league, companies test weird and extravagant tech all the time--just look at Apple's "iGlasses" prototype. Some teams in Amazon are certainly looking at future-facing tech, and if the results can fulfill Jeff Bezos' dream of streaming as much money as possible from consumers through every single Amazon market channel, then it seems like a great idea for the company. It may come soon, but my feeling is that it would be a long shot and would be so very different from its peers that it could polarize the market against it.
A cheaper phone that works on the same business model as the Kindle Fire tablets, and would thus be mainly a U.S. affair? That's much more likely. Will it sell by the million? It could, to loyal Amazon ecosystem consumers, but who knows! Amazon certainly isn't going to tell us if it does or it doesn't.
[Image: Flickr user Golly Gforce]