Everything We Know About Amazon’s Radical New Smartphone

All signs point to Amazon announcing a smartphone with novel features tomorrow. TechCrunch has revealed much about the phone over the last nine months but a few questions remain. At this point, all of the phone’s features are known and about the only thing left to know is the name, price and release date. Amazon will likely reveal all those details tomorrow morning at an event in Seattle and of course we’ll be there live.

What follows is a roundup of all of our scoops concerning the Amazonphone.

The Camera

The Amazon smartphone will sport six cameras. Along with the standard front and back camera, the phone has four, front-facing infrared cameras mounted at each corner. These will be used to track a user’s head to produce a 3D effect with a standard LCD screen.

A person will be able to move their head or phone to reveal hidden panels and screens. Tilt the phone to the right, and the screen will shift to reveal more details. You can watch the teaser video here. Amazon insiders have told TechCrunch that those motions shown in the video are what a person can expect when using the upcoming smartphone.

TechCrunch has learned that Amazon is using Omron’s Okao Vision face sensing technology to track the user’s head. The Japanese firm’s technology was modified by an internal team at Amazon to allow its upcoming phone to deliver unique stereoscopic effects from a standard LCD screen. This technology is also able to recognize faces and facial attributes to estimate a person’s gender, age and ethnicity. It doesn’t sound like Amazon has currently employed any of these additional features at this time. Currently Amazon is focused on head-tracking.

Yet this novel feature is simply a gimmick sources familiar with the development told me. The phone will ship with a few built-in effects and Amazon successfully courted several high-profile developers to build the effects into their apps. Amazon hopes the head tracking feature will be a big thing in the future, but at launch it will be little more than a marketing tool.

The Specs

The phone has been in development for some time and has thus seen several different hardware incarnations. When we first reported on the phone, Amazon was working on two versions including a lower-cost version that did not feature the head tracking technology. That phone was discarded along the way.

The phone now reportedly is a mid-tier device with specs that match closely with last year’s flagship Android devices. It has an unannounced a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor and 2GB of RAM along with a 4.7-inch, 720p screen. Along with the four IR cameras, the phone will have a low resolution front facing camera and a 13MP rear-facing camera.

Yet Amazon is likely to not talk about the phone’s hardware. Amazon, much like Apple, will sell the device based on the experience it can provide and not the hardware.

The Amazon smartphone will run a modified version of Android. Much like the Kindle Fire devices, this version of Android was developed in-house at Amazon and constructed with the general consumer in mind with a slightly different feel from stock Android.

The Carrier

According to a report released just today, Amazon has signed an exclusive distribution deal with AT&T.

AT&T currently provides wireless data for Amazon Kindle tablets and ereaders. Reports circulated several months ago speculating that the two companies could team up again for the Amazon phone, including packaging the phone with a sort-of data plan tied to Amazon’s Prime subscription service.

AT&T also has a long history of exclusively securing high profile devices. If this WSJ report is true, the Amazon phone will join other notable phones which launched exclusively on AT&T including the iPhone, the Facebook phone and the Nokia Lumia 700 — Amazon likely hopes it fares better than the latter two, though.

The Rest

Amazon will reveal the phone tomorrow morning at an event in its hometown of Seattle. Amazon will likely follow past formulas and answer the rest of the questions surrounding the phone. Unlike Samsung and other Android makers, Amazon traditionally announces a price for its devices instead of watching the reaction. And if I was a betting man, I would say that this phone will cost $199 with a contract.

This is Amazon’s first go at a smartphone, yet little is riding on the venture. For Amazon, all roads lead back to selling more products and the Amazon phone is simply another means to that end. As with the Kindle Fire tablets, the Amazon smartphone is not about dominating the market, but rather selling content through its digital storefronts. If the Amazon phone fails to sell in mass quantities, nothing will change inside the retail giant. It will simply shift focus to selling its wares some other way… perhaps through a Google Glass clone.