Multiple cameras on the front of the phone will track the user’s head movements to create a dynamic 3D shopping environment. The cameras on the back of the phone will likely be used to frame real-world products as if they were featured in Amazon’s online marketplace.
Amazon telegraphed its interest in a dedicated shopping device last month with the release of its free Dash device, a small barcode reader and voice recorder that lets you build Amazon shopping lists as you think of or see things you need throughout the day. The new phone takes the concept to a whole new level.
Head movement sensors
Looking at the teaser video released by Amazon Wednesday, it looks very much like the Amazon phone is using sensors to follow the head movements of the user, perhaps delivering a 3D experience. “It moves with me,” one user exclaims. It sounds a bit like the parallax effect built into Apple’s iOS 7, but more dramatic.
TechCrunch says it’s confirmed that the Amazon phone will sport Omron’s Okao Vision face sensing technology to track the user’s head movements. Amazon engineers, TechCrunch believes, modified the Omron technology to let the phone “deliver unique stereoscopic effects from a standard LCD screen.”
It’s likely the head tracking cameras will allow for a 3D presentation of Amazon’s online shopping environment, in which the product on the screen would be surrounded by information, graphics, reviews and navigation buttons — all in 3D, and all moving with the position of the user’s head and the position the phone is being held in. The user’s head movements might also be used to open up hidden panels of information, like reviews.
The same 3D experience might be created in the augmented reality shopping environment of the “flow” feature already in Amazon’s iPhone app. In “flow” the camera on the back of the phone identifies a product in the real world, then launches a graphic with information and links for purchasing the same product in the Amazon marketplace.
In the new phone, the product seen in its camera might show up on the screen surrounded by contextual 3D product information and graphics that shift with the user’s head movements.
The phone can be thought of as a 3D portal from the real world into the Amazon market online. It might also provide a way for Amazon to peek at the real world, collecting competitive intelligence about retail products in stores.
Indoor GPS and Instant Gratification
The overarching idea here is enabling impulse buying, which, make no mistake, is crucial to Amazon’s business. Amazon wants to provide a lifelike shopping experience online, and an augmented reality shopping experience offline, always with that “buy instantly” button within easy reach to enable purchases when the excitement of discovery is at its peak.
Reducing the time between clicking the Buy button and receiving the new product — cutting down on delayed gratification — is also hugely important. It’s the reason the company has been setting up local product pick-up via Amazon Locker. Instant gratification is so important to Amazon it’s even looking at using drones to make deliveries.
Advanced GPS might be Amazon’s newest weapon on this front. Amazon’s phone will use it to detect exactly what store you are in or near (in a mall or shopping center, say) when you buy or consider buying a product. It might be that Amazon wants to know if you are near one of its retail partner’s stores; it might offer you a special “Amazon” price on an item you see and want to buy in one of those stores. Then gratification is immediate.
However, it may also be that Amazon is simply collecting off-line shopping analytics data that could later be packaged and licensed to offline retailers for a profit.
Or, the indoor GPS might have something to do with the pricing Amazon offers on products viewed through the phone’s camera, as our source points out. Amazon already uses a very sophisticated, analytics-driven pricing system on its website. Like the pricing engines used on airline shopping sites, Amazon doesn’t offer always offer the same prices to every shopper. It depends on a lot of things, like your location. The Amazon phone could make its pricing even more sophisticated and contextual.
Our source says Amazon’s new phone has been in development “for years.” It was designed by Lab126, Amazon’s mobile team in Cupertino, the same team that built the Kindle. Interestingly, Lab 126 is just down the street from Apple, and it employs a bunch of ex-Apple and ex-Motorola guys.
The hardware and major features of Amazon’s new device have increasingly become clear, but the way some of those features will be used is still somewhat mysterious, and some pretty wild usage scenarios are possible. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has shown an appetite for moon shots, so we may be in for some surprises when the the phone is officially announced.