Amazon Turns Up the Heat

Should you get a Fire Phone?

There hasn’t been much innovation on the smart phone front for a while now. Apple’s iPhone 5s was an underwhelming upgrade and Samsung’s Galaxy S5 is more of the same, offering little in the way of new and exciting features we haven’t already seen.

So when retailer Amazon unveiled their own brand of smart phone on Wednesday, it was something to look forward to. But should you get one? Do the new bells and whistles really matter?

Truth be told, Amazon’s unveiling did not come as a surprise. The retail giant did not hide too many secrets about the Fire Phone. There were enough leaked images and details about the specifications of the phone to put together a pretty good picture of the phone before the unveiling. This new Fire Phone boasts specifications on par with the big boys and will satisfy tech geeks: Quad-core 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor; 4.7 inch screen (that Amazon claims is bright enough for outdoor viewing) covered in Gorilla Glass 3; HD display; 2G RAM; 13 megapixel rear-facing camera with optical; image stabilization that record 1080p videos; Duel stereo speakers with Dolby Digital Plus virtual surround sound; Customized version of Android (similar to Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets).

The distinguishing feature that sets it apart from the other offerings, however, is a glasses-free 3D experience that uses 4 low-power front-facing cameras located at each of the phone’s corners to track your face and eyes in order to display images that are in sync with where you’re looking, or with how the phone is tilted and moved around. The result is a sensation of 3D as objects move and shift in a sort of “dynamic perspective.”

I can hear the discussion in the Amazon board room when this feature was brought up: “But people will be more apt to buy our stuff when they can see all around it in 3D on their Fire Phones!” It’s not quite the holodiscs you see in Star Wars that are able to project a small holographic figure of Yoda floating in the air, but it’s a small step on that road.

The other significant application for this array of cameras is that the phone can detect gestural motion and react accordingly. No longer would you need to touch the phone’s flat screen to swipe through icons and menus. Instead, simple gestures in the air — a wave of the hand, a flick of the wrist — within the phone’s cameras’ field of view are sufficient to activate apps and manipulate menus. Microsoft is purportedly working on a 3D Windows phone that allows you to control it the way you would an Xbox Kinect, sensing your hovering finger and palm just like Tom Cruise’s operating system in Minority Report or Tony Stark’s workshop. More specifically, Theremin enthusiasts all around the world finally have a shot at practicing all those cool spacey sounds without the expense of buying a Theremin (I don’t see a Fire Phone app for this yet, but I’m sure it’s around the corner). Chefs and mechanics would likewise rejoice at being able to still view recipes and detailed instructions while not having to touch their precious phones with greasy hands. Might this technology one-day function as a quasi-3D scanner that will allow us to scan real-world objects and send these to replicate in 3D printers?

Then there’s the Firefly audio-visual recognition program that comes with the Fire Phone. With this app, you can scan barcodes and have the products automatically pop up on Amazon’s store. Or have Firefly listen to a movie’s soundtrack and take you directly to IMDB’s (Amazon owns this too) website. “Firefly recognizes a hundred million different items in real-world situations…including songs, movies, TV shows, and products — and take[s] action in seconds,” Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos touted.