Amazon doesn't care if you can make a call on its phone.
Yes, if the rumors are true, the company has built a phone, which we all expect Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos to unveil on Wednesday. But Amazon doesn't care about helping you keep in touch with friends; it cares about putting its industry-leading online retail store and services in your pocket and your hands almost 24/7.
As an online retailer, Amazon’s virtual doors never close, but there are times when you don’t carry your laptop or tablet with you, which could mean that Bezos’ access to your buying dollar is more limited than he would like. You can install Amazon apps on any iPhone or Android device, but unlike Amazon’s line of Kindle Fire HDX tablets, Amazon does not control the entire experience.
For Bezos, the ultimate smartphone is one custom-built for shopping through his store, and that’s probably just what he’ll deliver at a highly anticipated product launch event on Wednesday in Seattle.
The 3D hardware
Amazon’s teaser video made it quite clear that it’s about to unveil some kind of handheld device with special display capabilities. Throughout the short video, we see people looking down at something. In one clip, you can see the reflection of a screen in one woman’s eyeglasses. However, they’re not just holding the device, they’re moving their heads from side to side and expressing astonishment.
“Very real-life and un-comparable to anything I’ve seen,” says one woman.
Months ago, The Wall Street Journal reported that Amazon was working on a smartphone with a 3D display, so this revelation surprises no one. What the phone will look like and how it will work is, for the moment, a mystery.
There is, though, quite a bit we can intuit from Amazon’s retail focus and Bezos’ own perspective on hardware. In essence, Bezos likes to build and sell premium-quality hardware at cost, and he integrates each product deeply into what he calls the “Stack” (services, cloud, content, OS).
The Amazon phone will then likely offer an array of features that compare favorably with Apple’s iPhone 5S and Samsung’s Galaxy S5, but will probably eschew, with one critical exception, whiz-bang enhancements like gesture- and glance-control, fingerprint readers and slow-motion filming, in favor of anything that can tie the device smoothly to Amazon’s Fire OS 3.0 (built on top of Android and hyper-focused on content consumption/purchase), Amazon’s cloud, its retail services and Amazon Prime.
One area where Amazon will not skimp is on the screen.One area where Amazon will not skimp is on the screen. The $99-to-$199 device should include a 4.5-inch-to-5-inch HD display and, of course, will offer some kind of 3D viewing capabilities. In the short term, those capabilities will be devoted almost entirely to enhancing your shopping experience.
Here’s how it might work. The phone will include 3D imaging hardware and software that will give the camera capabilities similar to Google's Project Tango prototype. Point the phone’s 3D stereoscopic cameras (which should be situated on the back of the phone — one leaked photo showed six "cameras") at any object or environment and it will be able to build live 3D imagery. The second half of the 3D equation will be the screen.
In order to produce glasses-free 3D, Amazon’s phone will have to use lenticular technology similar to what’s found on the Nintendo 3DS and HTC’s EVO 3D. In the Amazon teaser video, one person notes how intuitive the Amazon product is, which likely means Amazon’s 3D screen is non-adjustable, either on or off, so there’s no fiddling around with it, but it still has great viewing angles.
A new shopping experience
Now let’s imagine what Amazon could do with these two technologies — 3D imagery and 3D display — together.
If you’re at home and shopping for a fire pit for your backyard, you could use Amazon’s phone to image your patio and then apply a 3D-rendered fire pit — for sale, of course, on Amazon.com. You'd use the phone’s 3D screen and on-the-fly 3D rendering to see the fire pit in place on your patio. Then, you could walk around the virtual fire pit, which when viewed on the Amazon phone’s screen will look like it’s sitting on your patio.
Alternatively, you could use the phone to 3D-scan an object in a brick and mortar store and instantly get comparative prices and products, which, naturally, you could see in 3D.
Amazon’s phone could also be the first smartphone to feature Amazon’sMayday customer service experienceAmazon’s phone could also be the first smartphone to feature Amazon’s Mayday customer service experience. On Kindle Fire HDX tablets, Mayday a 24/7 video help system. You hit it, a live customer service rep appears on your screen, and you can ask almost any question. According to Amazon, Mayday service reps recently helped one customer beat an Angry Birds level and told another how to make the ultimate peanut butter and jelly sandwich. On the phone, Mayday could expand its oeuvre to shopping advice and even general knowledge. Think Apple’s Siri if she were a real person.
Services and subsidies
Amazon’s phone could also include temporary free access to Amazon Prime (six months to a year); free storage on Amazon Cloud (you currently get 5GB free); a year of FreeTime for kids; and most importantly, free data.
Right now, no carrier offers customers free data. You pay for the amount you expect to use, usually in gigabytes per month, and if you exceed that amount, you pay more. To encourage mobile use, Amazon could eat the first 500MB of data usage, which means it’ll have to work out a deal with its carrier partner(s).
Speaking of carriers, most people expect Amazon to launch the phone with AT&T, which has been its go-to partner for mobile devices since the days of Whispernet.
Standing alongside all the seasoned tech journalists in Seattle will be an almost equal number of invited consumers, all of whom will spend hours with Amazon. They all applied for admission to the event and some have likened their selection to finding a golden ticket in one of Willy Wonka’schocolate bars. You can guess who everyone thinks is Mr. Wonka in this scenario.
No one knows why Bezos and Amazon have made this unusual move, but we suspect it could be to highlight the company's focus on a unique consumer experience. Jaded journalists may not get it or want to publicly acknowledge their enthusiasm for the Amazon phone’s unusual screen, but
consumers will likely be bursting, and all their reactions will be caught on camera by the journalistsconsumers will likely be bursting, and all their reactions will be caught on camera by the journalists standing right next to them.
There could be other reasons for this audience mix. Maybe Bezos really does want to play Wonka and, as promised, give a behind-the-scenes look at WonkaWo … er … Amazon’s operations. The group could end up in a warehouse to watch, in real time, Amazon drones picking up products in the warehouse and delivering packages to a nearby home (this scenario is only possible in the unlikely event that the FAA actually gave Amazon the OK to fly drones in Seattle). Perhaps they’ll see Amazon’s Kiva robots working in inventory and packaging.
Amazon may also simply want to take attendees on a field trip where they can use the shopping-centric phone in the real world, bringing them to brick-and-mortar stores where they can see the 3D product scanning in action. Attendees might also see Amazon’s rumored “Last Mile” delivery service in action. Alternatively, they could end up in a model home were they can play out the scenario of scanning and seeing products in place as described above.
The whole point of any Amazon hardware product to date has been to drive further consumption of Amazon-hosted books, movies, TV shows and now musicThe whole point of any Amazon hardware product to date has been to drive further consumption of Amazon-hosted books, movies, TV shows and now music. In addition to Amazon Prime Video and the recently unveiled Amazon Music service, the company has millions of books, magazines and movies for purchase. It also has a growing library of apps, though they’re still in a curated list. One big question is whether Amazon will allow consumers to access Google Play through this phone, though the company is apparently trying to encourage developers to make apps for the Fire OS on its new phone.
There is a slim chance Amazon won't launch a phone on Wednesday, but it's more likely that the only mobile mysteries remaining will be if the Amazon smartphone joins the Kindle Fire family or gets a very different name like "Amazon Prime Phone."
Whatever happens on Wednesday, Mashable has you covered. Senior Tech Correspondent Samantha Murphy will be reporting live from the scene starting at 1 p.m. ET. You can follow all her updates in our live blog.