Amazon’s phone is the most mundane thing it’s working on

Chris Davies - Jun 17, 2014
Amazon’s phone is the most mundane thing it’s working on

Amazon has reportedly been working on its new, 3D smartphone since 2009, according to a profile of the Lab126 team responsible for the handset we’re expecting to see revealed on Wednesday, but it could in fact be the most mainstream of the products the retail behemoth is cooking up. Sharing workbench space in the clandestine skunkworks previously responsible for the Kindle ereader and Fire TV set-top box are tipped to be projected computer interfaces and more.

The Amazon smartphone has been one of the longest-running projects at Lab126, according to a Bloomberg Businessweek report based on interviews with team members. Certainly, rumors about the device have repeatedly surfaced for years.

According to the sources, Amazon’s 3D technology was inspired by a Wii hack we saw all the way back in 2008. Then, tinkerer Johnny Chung Lee used the Wiimote motion controller to deliver head-tracking images (he later went on to work on Google’s Project Tango).

An array of infrared cameras are expected to be used to track the user’s eyes and then adjust the on-screen image so that it appears to be 3D. In contrast, previous phones with 3D displays like the HTC EVO 3D have used trick display panels, with their fair share of limitations.

The UI is expected to be accompanied by gesture recognition for completely hands-off navigation and control. Exactly how that will play with third-party apps – or, indeed, whether it’ll actually add to the usability of the Amazon smartphone – remains to be seen at tomorrow’s event, though the retailer is said to have already been demonstrating the system to key external developers.

However, while the phone – codenamed at various times “Tyto” and “Otus”, both species of owl – is interesting, it pales in comparison to some other projects Lab126 is tipped to be working on.

Specifics are scant, but there’s said to be one team developing a projected computer interface that can be overlaid onto any surface. Although it’s unclear exactly how the system would work, it’s reminiscent of the wearable “Sixth Sense” computer MIT researchers developed.

Another team is looking at wireless speakers that can be controlled by voice. Reports a year ago suggested that a Sonos-rivaling system was among Amazon’s “Alphabet Projects”, which also namechecked a pair of smartphone designs.

Meanwhile, there’s also talk of a mobile payments scanner similar to Square’s reader dongle, and a new Kindle Paperwhite ereader – internally dubbed “Ice Wine” – that’s said to be “remarkably thin”. Amazon is tipped to be refreshing its ereader line later in 2014.

SOURCE Bloomberg Businessweek

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