In what could be the latest example of smartphone one-upsmanship, a new report says Amazon is developing a no-glasses, 3D smartphone. The retailing giant has been rumored for some time to be working on a line of branded phones, but this is the first time 3D capability has been mentioned.
The report, in The Wall Street Journal, said that the Seattle-based company is also developing an audio-only, Wi-Fi streaming device. Amazon owns Audible, the publisher of audio books and other audio content. The publication cited "people familiar with the company's plans."
The Journal said the high-end, 3D device would use retina-tracking to enable images to appear hologram-like, although the device would not actually be using that technology, with images floating above the screen and appearing from all angles to be three-dimensional. In fact, the sources told the paper, the retina-tracking may allow users to navigate through content simply by moving their eyes.
The Alphabet Projects
The report said the 3D phone would have 4G LTE connectivity, with chips provided by Qualcomm. If such 3D technology is offered and works well, the key question is whether it actually adds value to the device or is simply a frill.
Amazon is also reportedly developing at least one other smartphone besides the 3D one, although the Journal did not describe any of its specifics. The retailer has also been rumored to be developing a set-top box that allows streaming of video content from the Web.
The four devices are said to be under development at Amazon's Lab126 facility, not far from Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. They are among the company's next steps in hardware, and, because they are called Projects A, B, C and D, the hardware effort is collectively known as the Alphabet Projects.
No release dates for any of the new devices have been announced or even rumored yet, and the Journal said any of the projects could be canceled because of a number of factors, including device performance. Amazon has declined to comment on the report.
If Amazon does release one or more smartphones, the devices could certainly use the kind of differentiation that floating, 3D imagery without glasses would provide. Samsung Electronics and Apple together currently account for 61 percent of the smartphones sold in the U.S., and longtime players like HTC, BlackBerry and Nokia are fighting for the remaining market share.
But, if Amazon can get a foothold in the U.S. or worldwide market through product differentiation and its huge retailing presence, smartphones could become part of the ecosystem that has made its Kindle line of tablets a hit. That ecosystem includes enormous amounts of content of every format and kind, accessories, streaming video, recommendation engines, and an easy-to-use e-commerce system.
In fact, that ecosystem is so important that the company could sell any smartphones at cost and make its profit on the sale of content and services, as it does with Kindles.