Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos took to the stage at an event in Seattle to announce the long-rumoured “3D phone” to an audience of journalists. While the hardware matches up to some of its competitors which Bezos identified as the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the iPhone 5S
some of the most impressive features were found in its software, particularly in the shape of a Shazam-for-all-content called Firefly and the display’s “dynamic perspective” (essentially motion parallax), which gives the device the “3D” effect that people have expected. But more on those later.
The machined aluminium device has a 4.7-inch LCD HD display and has a quad-core 2.2 GHz processor and 2 GB of RAM. Camera-wise, there’s a 13-megapixel shooter on the back with image stabilisation technology to try and counteract wobbly human hands.
The camera can be launched within a single click, even from the lockscreen. With such an emphasis on photography, you’ll need some storage: Fire comes with unlimited storage for photos on Amazon Cloud.
For audio, the phone comes with dual stereo speakers with virtual surround sound provided by Dolby. If you don’t want to sodcast to the world, the phone comes with tangle free earbuds with flat cables and magnetic earbuds, so you won’t find yourself with a cable bird’s nest in your pocket.
The Fire Phone comes with apps for video and music — both Amazon’s own apps such as Prime Music and third-party apps such as Pandora, YouTube, Netflix, Spotify.
Of course, with Amazon’s Kindle background, there’s a strong emphasis on reading too and it comes with hundreds of magazines and newspapers, with “immersion reading” that lets you read and listen to a book simultaneously.
The phone also comes with the Mayday customer support feature that connects individuals with a person to help answer questions about things like how to turn off international roaming, set up Bluetooth etc, without having to trawl through a complicated forum.
A new service called Firefly combines a range of media-identification capabilities into one app. It uses the phone’s camera to recognise products and then add them to your Amazon shopping cart. During the demonstration on stage, it seemed extremely fast taking less than half a second.
Firefly also has a Shazam-esque song, movie and TV-show recognition capability. It uses the microphone to listen into a scene of a show and identify which episode you are watching similar to Facebook’s recent app update.
It can also identify works of art and connect you to Wikipedia information about them, factoring in any changes in viewing angle, meaning that you don’t have to be square-on for it to work.
It can also instantly scan and copy text from posters, URLs, email addresses and phone numbers so you don’t have to type them in thanks so some clever image analysis. It uses semantic boosting to improve recognition of, say, phone numbers as it already has an in-built knowledge of how phone numbers work in order to improve the probability of character recognition no mean feat.
Firefly seems extremely nifty and as a consequence, Amazon has given the tool its own button on the side of the phone. This means you can start recognising the world even from the lockscreen. Developers can build on top of Firefly thanks to an SDK.
This means that, for example, a calorie counting app like MyFitnessPal can suddenly have image-recognition capabilities, so instead of typing in the name of a food product, you can just take a photo of it and it will automatically add nutritional information to your food diary.
DYNAMIC PERSPECTIVE (NOT 3D)
The 3D element to the phone comes in the shape of something called “dynamic perspective” which is a hologram-like effect that comes from transforming flat images into 3D models that can be viewed from different angles using the screen as a “window” onto a 3D world.
It’s not really 3D, but something called motion parallax — a trick of the eye that comes from changing the image as you move your head. This means that the phone has to track where your head is, and it does this with the front-facing cameras (there are no fewer than four of them) that have infrared capabilities.
On a simple level this allows for cool 3D-effect images on your lockscreen, but also allows you to take a fly through a 3D environment such as a map simply by tilting the phone.
LAUNCH DATE AND PRICE
The phone will be availabe in the US for $199 (32GB) or $299 (64GB) on a two year contract or $650-$749 without a contract. The first phones will ship on 25 July. As with most Amazon launches, it will likely become available in Europe around six months after the US launch. So far we don’t have the price details for the UK launch.