Amazon’s Top-Secret Gadget Lab Is Building Plenty, But A Thinner Kindle Could Be The Coolest

Amazon is apparently working away on a lot more besides the upcoming smartphone with the 3D interface at its Lab126 hardware R&D facility. A new Businessweek profile details some of the work that went into creating the new smartphone, as well as a few other efforts, including a speech-controlled Bluetooth speaker, a Square-killing credit card reader and a projector for anywhere. But the most exciting development of all might be one that seems rather boring on the surface: a super-thin Kindle.

The Bloomberg profile mostly focuses on the Lab126 makeup, which consists of around 1,600 people, according to information from LinkedIn. They’ve launched two new devices this year already, including the Fire TV set-top streamer and the Amazon Dash grocery-scanning gadget.

The Fire TV, while mostly well-received, doesn’t do much for non-Prime subscribers they can’t get elsewhere. And the Dash is really only useful where Amazon offers AmazonFresh, which is still just limited to a few U.S. locales. Even Amazon’s unannounced (until tomorrow) smartphone is being met with a lot of early skepticism. One person I spoke with, who spoke under the condition of anonymity and who got some early hands-on time with the device, said they weren’t very impressed with its 3D gimmick. That’s been reported by others who have had an early look, as well, including a source speaking to 9to5Mac’s Mark Gurman and a separate source who shared information with TechCrunch.

Truth be told, the other products reported by Businessweek strike me as similarly odd in design and conception. A device that “projects a computer image onto any surface” is essentially a pico projector, it sounds like, and a voice-powered wireless speaker sounds like a mostly unnecessary mashup of Siri and your basic Jambox. A credit-card reader to compete with Square could help Amazon bridge the gap between online and local retail, but from a consumer perspective, the item in the project pipeline with the most potential appeal is a new Kindle Paperwhite.

Amazon’s Kindle remains the company’s most interesting consumer hardware device, and is arguably the most successful of the bunch (which is hard to say given Amazon’s reluctance to share device sales numbers). The Paperwhite line has been a terrific improvement on an already solid product, and now this new model, codenamed Ice Wine, sounds like it could be even better. An earlier report from TechCrunch suggests it’ll be lighter, with a 300 ppi high-resolution display, and the return of physical buttons. Businessweek’s profile says only that it’ll be “incredibly thin,” but that alone would be a market improvement.

While it’s great that Amazon is working hard on building new and different kinds of hardware with unique interfaces and interaction paradigms, the company continues to show its strength on a product that was smart and timely out of the gate. I’ll be watching to see what the Amazon brings to the table in a new phone tomorrow, but I’m honestly much more excited about whatever’s in store for its e-ink-based e-reader later this year.