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6/5/2014
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Amazon's June 18 Event: Smartphone Release Party?

Mysterious launch event expected to reveal long-awaited, possibly 3D-capable smartphone.

With talk of a potential smartphone from Amazon fading to embers, the Internet retailing giant rekindled the fire Wednesday with a mysterious video and invitation. The company asked people to attend a launch event in Seattle on June 18, where it is widely expected to show off its first smartphone.

Amazon revealed its plans through a short YouTube video that includes people gaping in wonder at an object off screen. As they look at the object, the people exclaim "This is neat. This is really neat" and "It's very real-life and incomparable to anything I've ever seen." The people are moving around as if to view the object from different angles -- perhaps hinting that the device includes a 3D screen. The video was accompanied by a website on which anyone with an Amazon.com account can register to attend the June 18 event. The last time Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos hosted an event in Seattle the company showed off new tablets.

Amazon has been developing a smartphone for a long time, and reports about the device pop up every few months, it seems. With an actual event on the calendar, it suddenly appears that there might be fire where previously there was only smoke. But what will this device offer the smartphone-buying public that they can't already get from their existing devices?

[Learn what's new with Android. See Android 4.4.3 Appears Before Google I/O.]

Ronan de Renesse, principal analyst with Analysys Mason, believes Amazon will aim low. "Amazon will not and does not intend to become a global smartphone manufacturer. Amazon's smartphone launch roadmap will be similar to its Kindle Fire range, targeting only a few select countries, starting with the US and the UK," said de Renesse.

Amazon's tablets don't sell like the iPad or Galaxy Tab, but they do sell consistently well. Whether or not it can repeat that success with a smartphone is anyone's guess. "Amazon already possesses many of the assets needed to successfully launch a smartphone: a known brand, the ability to offer quality devices at a lower cost than most competitors, a powerful distribution channel, and an existing ecosystem of content and services," said de Renesse.

In the end, its content and services are what any such device from Amazon is all about. Owners of Amazon's Kindle tablets spend more money on Amazon goods and services than do owners of iPads or other types of tablets. Amazon hopes it can score the same kind of revenue bump by providing consumers with an Amazon-branded smartphone, too.

The invitation itself answers no questions about what Amazon might actually announce. Any talk of device specs or features is little more than hearsay at this point. That said, it is highly likely Amazon will use the same forked version of Android (called Fire OS) for this smartphone that it does with its Kindle tablets.

The biggest question is how Amazon will provide connectivity. Amazon will want to keep prices low, but also give consumers flexibility in how they use this device. The wisest choice will be to use the GSM/LTE networking standards and sell the device unlocked (if possible). That way it could be used with either AT&T or T-Mobile in the US. As it so happens, T-Mobile (also based in Seattle) is holding its own event June 18. It is possible the two are related.

Here's the video:

Could the growing movement toward open source hardware rewrite the rules for computer and networking hardware the way Linux, Apache, and Android have for software? Also in the Open Source Hardware issue of InformationWeek: Mark Hurd explains his "once-in-a-career opportunity" at Oracle.

Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio

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Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
6/5/2014 | 3:47:52 PM
Re: Bigger question
>What could ANY smartphone maker build into a device that would really, truly be a game changer?

Google's Project Tango. The ability to map spaces in 3D in real-time opens up many previously impractical or impossible applications. In a year or two, you'll see some really amazing apps, once developers learn what they can do with the hardware and once the hardware makes it into consumer phones.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
6/5/2014 | 1:43:20 PM
Re: Bigger question
Solar charger is great. I also thought about the ability to project a largish QWERTY keyboard onto a flat surface. Or the ability to connect to satellite Wi-Fi 24/7 no matter where I am on the planet. Or ...
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
6/5/2014 | 1:30:36 PM
Re: Bigger question
Solar charger? Origami-style display that folds out when you need bigger? They would be on wish lists but are unlikely to be in Amazon's design.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
6/5/2014 | 11:16:36 AM
Bigger question
What could ANY smartphone maker build into a device that would really, truly be a game changer? One can get beautiful screen resolutions, good speed, rich app ecosystems. Heck, my HTC One even has decent speakers.

What's on your pie-in-the-sky wish list?
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