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Another Day, Another Vision-Enhanced Handset: Amazon's Rumored Entrant Is A Nifty 3D-Effects Interface Gadget

As mentioned in last Friday's writeup, "the past few weeks have been rich with depth-sensing smartphone news." Well, here comes another one. The above photo shows a claimed prototype of Amazon's coming-soon first smartphone, exclusively published by BGR (aka "Boy Genius Report"), a well-known tech enthusiast site originally spun off from Engadget and subsequently acquired by Media Corporation. Note that as BGR observes, " the device is covered by a protective shell intended to prevent people without authorization from seeing the physical design of the phone".

Much of what BGR revealed is not particularly surprising, given Amazon's track record of leveraging and modifying Google's Android O/S, as exemplified in the company's Kindle Fire tablet line, along with tidbits revealed in past leaks. The smartphone is claimed to run a heavily "skinned" Android build, focused on Amazon's own app and other online stores and services. It supposedly contains an unspecified-model Qualcomm application processor SoC, along with 2 GBytes of RAM. And it integrates conventional (albeit unspecified-resolution) front- and rear-located cameras.

Now for the unconventional part of the story. The Amazon smartphone supposedly also contains four additional "low power infrared" image sensors, one located in each corner of the front of the device. BGR's analysis says only that they're "used to track the position of the user’s face and eyes in relation to the phone’s display." Touchless gesture control and other potential applications are not mentioned but would seem to also be conceivable; note that Leap Motion's gesture interface peripheral leverages infrared-sensing stereoscopic cameras (along with including three infrared-projection LEDs).

Also unknown at this point are the specifics of the "3D effects" that the "additional four front-facing cameras that work with other sensors" facilitate. At minimum, they could be an extrapolation of the parallax effect already implemented in Apple's iOS 7, which harnesses devices' built-in accelerometers and other sensors to transform a conventional 2D display into a "three-dimensional world that shifts and tilts alongside the device itself." In this particular case, the device itself wouldn't necessarily need to shift and tilt...the displayed information would adapt solely in response to movement of the user's head. However, the Amazon smartphone display's claimed 720p resolution, lower than that of other manufacturers' existing premium handsets, has me curious as to whether much more may be involved here.

Perhaps Amazon has simply chosen a mainstream 2D display to keep the smartphone's bill of materials cost reasonable. On the other hand, BGR's writeup mentions "glasses-free 3D effects" but forecasts a "3D experience without the need for 3D glasses or a parallax barrier in front the LCD panel like the solutions used by the Nintendo 3DS portable video game console and HTC’s EVO 3D smartphone from 2011." What if BGR is wrong, and a parallax barrier-based (or, for that matter, lenticular lens-based) autostereoscopic 3D display is in the mix? As I wrote two years ago, head tracking is at the core of Apple's patent on the concept. And it would explain the comparatively low-resolution display result.

Stay tuned, as Amazon's offering is supposed to go public in June...