Amazon smartphone head-tracking and 3D UI detailed, possible device prototype leaks

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As we told you this past weekend, The Wall Street Journal has it on good authority that the online retail giant Amazon is gearing up to launch its rumored smartphone with a 3D screen around September, after entering the crowded living room market with its own $99 set-top box, the Fire TV.

TechCrunch is now chiming in with new details regarding the handset’s head-tracking capabilities that are thought to offer up some “limited 3D effects” via a few built-in gestures. Also, a scoop from BGR claims to show a prototype Amazon smartphone device that may or may not have entered in production…

Citing a source with first-hand experience of the Amazon smartphone, TechCrunch writer Matt Burns is reporting that Project Smith – as the Amazon smartphone is referred to internally – involves a device code-named Duke that includes head-tracking.

WSJ previously said that the phone incorporates a screen capable of displaying 3D images without the need for special glasses, by using retina-tracking technology via its four front-facing cameras and now TechCrunch offers more by way of detail than is evident in WSJ’s story.

By way of four corner-mounted, front-facing cameras, a user can tilt the smartphone left or right to browse and access hidden side panels.

We’re told that the 3D feature is very limited out of the box. At launch, there will be just a couple of added gestures built into the operating system that utilize this system.

Contrary to previous reports, this is done through head tracking alone and does not use eye tracking at all. Amazon never worked on eye tracking for its smartphones, TechCrunch learned.

Duke is allegedly a flagship Amazon smartphone running “a heavily modified version of Android.” Amazon is typically all about low price so there may multiple models in the pipeline to cover a wide gamut of price points.

BGR claims that the handset will feature a custom 3D interface “unlike anything we have seen before on a smartphone,” starting with wallpapers on the lock screen that shift as you tilt the device, which reminds us of  the iOS parallax effect.

The effect extends to Home screen icons and other UI elements.

We’re told that moving the phone while using the maps application will change the view of various objects on the screen.

Another smart use for the phone’s 3D effects is across Amazon’s various stores, such as its book store, music store and the main Amazon digital market. By shifting the position of the phone, users are able to see three-dimensional product images at different angles to reveal surfaces that cannot be seen in 2D photos.

Third-party developers should be able to take advantage of the phone’s 3D interface via a set of APIs.

Amazon smartphone prototype (BGR 001)
Alleged 4.7-inch Amazon smartphone prototype covered in a protective shell to hide its design from prying eyes.

We don’t have a release date yet because Amazon has yet to formally announce its handset.

According to the WSJ, a few developers in San Francisco and Seattle have been given access to the device to produce some key apps in time for the launch. If the financial paper’s sources are correct, Amazon will unveil the phone by June and ship it by the end of September.

A TechCrunch source was able to confirm this schedule, indicating that the Amazon smartphone will take on Apple’s rumored 4.7 and 5.5-inch iPhones. Pretty much every handset maker out there will be releasing their high-end devices ahead of the holiday season so it’s going to be a crowded Fall, indeed.

Do you care about the Amazon smartphone and would you buy one if the price was right?