Amazon may be working on a smartphone with hologram-like 3D

Past 3D smartphones havent caught on, analyst notes

Amazon is reportedly developing a smartphone that sports a 3D screen that relies on retina-tracking technology to make images seem to float above the screen like a hologram.

With the smartphone, users would be able to navigate through content by using their eyes alone, according to two unnamed people who discussed the phone with the Wall Street Journal.

Word that Amazon could be working on a smartphone has surfaced in the past. In April, Amazon hired a former Microsoft executive, Charlie Kindel, fueling speculation that work on a Kindle smartphone running Android could be under way for release in late 2013.

The Journal also reported on four projects now in the works at Amazon. Dubbed the Alphabet Projects and labeled Project A, B, C or D, they include the latest 3D smartphone and another smartphone (possibly the Kindle one), a set-top box for streaming movies and TV shows and an audio-streaming device.

Amazon would not comment on the report or confirm the projects.

Amazon already makes several versions of the Kindle Fire tablet, and has staked a claim on providing books and movie content that it sells to mobile users.

The 3D concept in smartphones is not new, even though Amazon may be prepping a different technology for 3D images, especially if they float above the screen as holograms.

Two years ago, Sprint launched the HTC Evo 3D smartphone for US$200 with a contract. That phone offered 3D viewing without the need for special glasses, but the images did not appear to float above the plane of the screen like a hologram.

The 3D effect in the HTC Evo is produced thanks to a series of slits in the front of the LCD screen that block light, so that your left and right eyes see different images. The LG Optimus 3D and the Nintendo 3DS handheld gaming console use the same technology.

Whether a 3D smartphone from Amazon would be popular is questionable, one analyst said.

The LG and HTC 3D smartphones weren't followed by others in the market, showing a lack of interest in the concept by buyers, said Ramon Llamas, an analyst at IDC. "3D on smartphones [haven't] really taken off," he said, noting that the two 3D smartphones, as well as 3D computer monitors and 3D TV's, generally haven't sold well.

Part of the problem is the lack of 3D content for smartphones, which requires special cameras and production. Producing a holographic 3D image would be complex, Llamas said.

"How many cameras would it take to get that hologram effect, and you can't do it with conventional cameras you have today," Llamas said. "Yes, I'd love to exchange holograms on my smartphone with my wife, but that would mean you would have to be surrounded by cameras."

Perhaps Amazon is working to produce holograms with special software that lessens the need for cameras. But, said Llamas: "I'm not looking at 3D holograms coming any time soon.... It sounds cool, like what we've seen in Star Wars movies, but it also sounds like neat technology on paper."

If an Amazon's 3D smartphone uses retina tracking, as reported, analysts wondered how different that technology would be from Samsung's eye-tracking capability called Smart Track in the now-available Galaxy S4. Smart Track is used to pause a video when a user looks away from the phone.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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