TIME Rumors

Report: Amazon’s Smartphone Might Include Eye-Tracking 3D

The e-commerce giant is reportedly working on a smartphone that features eyewear-free 3D interface that tracks users' eyes and face motions. The rumored phone could be available as soon as this year

The Wall Street Journal reignited longstanding rumors about an Amazon smartphone last Friday, when it reported Amazon planned to announce the phone in June, it intended to feature an eyewear-free 3D interface and that we’d be able to lay hands on the device sometime later this year.

Now BGR’s splashing kerosene on the Journal‘s fire with what it claims are exclusive pictures of the phone — a prototype wrapped in a protective plastic shell, to be fair — but representative, according to BGR’s sources. If indeed this is the fabled smartphone, and assuming we’re looking at something that resembles the final product (companies can run anywhere with prototypes, and many never see light of day), it looks pretty much like any other smartphone.

It sounds like any other smartphone, too, spec-wise: BGR’s sources claim the phone includes a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, 2 GB of memory, runs a version of Android comparable to Amazon’s tablet lineup, has a 13-megapixel rear camera and a 4.7-inch screen that runs at 720p. Where this thing starts to differ from other smartphones, however, is that it reportedly employs 3D algorithms tied into six cameras — two in back, and four infrared in front that’ll track your face and eyes — that enable 3D effects requiring neither eyewear nor the sort of parallax screen barrier Nintendo uses to facilitate eyewear-free 3D in its 3DS.

3D — that is, stereoscopic 3D, an idea as old as View-Masters — is one of those features-looking-for-an-audience that’s never worked for me. I don’t care for it in movie theaters, nor fiddling with handhelds like Nintendo 3DS or HTC’s EVO 3D. You’ll hear a lot of people use it and “gimmicky” in a sentence, partly because it typically involves clumsy equipment and/or restrictive eye-positional trickery, and partly because our brains already interpolate 2D content as three-dimensional, making it superfluous. It’s so rarely used non-superfluously that the exceptions — Hugo and Gravity are the only two that come to mind in film — prove the rule, at least for me.

So part of me hopes these claims turn out to be wrong, while the other part hopes that if they’re not wrong. It’d be nice if Amazon figured out how to do something no one’s thought of with 3D — something that’s more than a whiz-bang gimmick, like iOS 7’s pointless parallax scrolling, or the way most 3DS developers relegate Nintendo’s handheld to glorified shadow box-dom.

Remember the days when “holograms” were cool? When you could tilt a flat piece of material this way or that to make different images appear and we called it “incredible”? I don’t. But then I’m ready for anything. Surprise us, Amazon, if indeed we’re not straw-manning you. Show all us stereoscopic 3D naysayers the error of our ways.

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