We’re getting set for the unveiling of Amazon’s new device, widely believed to be a smartphone, at a special event this morning here in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood. My GeekWire colleague Todd Bishop and I will be live-blogging the action here in this post and following up with hands-on impressions throughout the day.
Amazon has really built up the anticipation for this one, starting with a teaser video that showed customers reacting with varying degrees of surprise to a mystery device.
Based on various reports and patent filings by the company, the phone is expected to include a 3D interface and the ability to interact via hand gestures.
Even if it can deliver on those features, the company’s big challenge will be standing out in a highly competitive market, led by Google and Apple. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos implicitly acknowledged that fact in packages sent to reporters in advance of the event, containing a copy of the children’s book, Mr. Pine’s Purple House, in which the main character struggles to make his house unique from all the others on his block.
The event is scheduled to get rolling at 10:30 a.m. Pacific time, and we’ll kick off the live blog here before the event starts.
OK, we’re inside …
Four rows back and dead center. Todd’s taking pictures and I’m on the keys. There’s a stage in front of us, and a wrap around screen with stars floating around in outer space. It’s pretty cool, but it’s no 3D.
Top Amazon execs including Kindle VP Dave Limp hanging out by the front of the stage …
We had fun talking outside with some of the Amazon customers who applied for tickets to the event. I think I may have met my first Amazon fanboy.
Amazon Fanboy and GeekWire fanboy! So thrilled about meeting Todd, he had his photo taken with him. Todd’s famous!
OK, we’re going. Event starts with some of the videos customers submitted to attend.
We’re hearing from customers first: A funny guy from Issaquah begs “please consider me, I know the product is going to be awesome.” Another customer says, what’s that buried under an “I love Lucy” Dvd?, it’s the Apple TV.
Clapping an serious applause. This isn’t a normal press conference folks, this is a fan event. Jeff Bezos takes the stage. He says 60,038 people applied to come. There’s 300 here.
Lots of announcements are coming today, says Bezos. In 2011, the slope of the Amazon Prime adoption graph changed — A LOT. “You don’t see this much in business, this is a very good thing.”
Very quickly in 2014, there was tens of million of Amazon Prime members. He says it took “Patience, persistence and attention to details.” Practically, it also took spending a ton of money on entertainment stuff, like TV, movies and books.
“We seek to be renewal worthy,” he says, adding that what Amazon is trying to build a great service for ONE customer. If you do that, you can get millions, Bezos says.
Lots of Twitter praise. Missbumptious says Prime is the best life decision she’s every made. “If you are really out there,” Bezos says. “I bet that’s not true.” Bezos is being funny, and people are laughing!
Tens of millions of Kindle owners, Bezos says…That’s the closest we get folks to numbers. Curious if it’s the same “tens of millions” that have Prime. Oh, he adds “tens of millions of Fire owners.”
So, here’s a recap: Tens of millions of people have Kindles, Prime and Kindle Fire tablets.
“The most important thing we’ve done over the last 20 years is earn the trust of customers.” (Did he read my walk-up piece yesterday, because that’s what I wrote!) “How do you earn trust? You don’t ask for it, that never works, he says. The simple recipe: 1. Do hard things well. 2. Repeat.”
Now, he’s just bragging about how trustworthy they are. Lots of surveys, say so.
Shout out to Bezos’ mom, who’s in the audience today! Bezos is talking about his favorite children’s book, which she read to him dutifully.
The most common question Bezos gets? Are you making a phone? The answer is YES!
Some of the stats: They tried screens with 4.3 to 5.5 inches, but 4.7 inches is optimal for one-hand holding. “It is the perfect size for perfect use.” They also obsessed about outdoor viewing. There’s 2.2 GHz, so it’s fast. The best camera: 13 MP, image stabilization.
Tiny electric motors adjusting the lens tons of times every second.
Comparing Samsung S5 photos, Fire photos and the iPhone S5 on the Seattle night skyline.
Another great thing about photos: A button to press so it launches camera whenever you want to. A second press takes the photo. FREE unlimited photo storage on the Amazon Cloud.
Sound is also very important: Dual stereo speakers, virtual surround. Amazon is also fixing the earbuds. Flat cables with premium earbuds in the box. They won’t tangle!
Services matter too!
Video: It’s a very important use case, he says. Appropriately showing a video of Amazon Prime clips, including HBO exclusives, like Sopranos and True Blood.
Second screen and X-Ray for Movies will be included from IMBD, and bringing over ASAP from Fire TV. WE’ll predict what you want to stream, we’ll cache it so it starts instantly. It’s an open ecosystem: HBO GO, Hulu Plus, ESPN, etc.
Prime Music also included, just announced last week. No ads…Apps include Spotify, Pandora and iheartmusic.
Kindle reading features: Audible, immersion reading lets you read and listen simultaneously, and whispersync for voice, allows you to switch back and forth between voice and reading.
Customer service: Mayday is also coming to the phone. No one knows how to sync their calendar, turn on Bluetooth, turn off international roaming??? Well, Amazon offers Mayday, the tablet service that offers 24/7 video tech support. They’ve been answering in less than 10 seconds and it’s free.
Something different? Bezos demos something called “firefly.”
This is where shopping comes into play. The phone is literally scanning and identifying items on the table in milliseconds, like Salt, board games, videogames, etc.
Those items are now listed on the phone’s screen: The book can be purchased in hardback or the Kindle edition. The dishwasher detergent is also there. And, it can listen to music to, and identify songs for purchase or streaming.
Firefly also recognizes TV shows. It’s listening to “Game of Thrones,” and within two seconds at most, it recognized the specific episode, and the SCENE!! The video was 49 minutes and one second into that scene, available from X-ray from IMBD.
Firefly is also for art: You can take a picture of a portrait, and you can learn about the painting and the artist from Wikipedia. A picture of a phone number is also recognized, presumably for dialing.
Oh wow: Firefly recognizes 100 million items. This is machine learning at its best. Can Apple do this? What about Samsung?
There’s a designated FireFly button, so this isn’t just another service. This is a critical component and selling point of this phone. No passcode required. There’s no friction. Access it anytime, anywhere.
Bezos showing the Firefly button. Note the sensors in the edge of the phone — we’ll be hearing about those soon, no doubt.
A third-party SDK will be available to developers to keep the FireFly interesting. iHeartRadio, for instance, has integrated it to help identify music. myFitnesspal has integrated to find nutrition info of items. Bezos tells another joke!: It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Cheetos are bad for you! They are day-glow orange!
The SDK is available today.
Here comes the 3D stuff, I can feel it!
Bezos is explaining “Geometric perspective,” which gives art more depth, to give the look of shadows, etc. But no matter how hard you try, you can’t look behind items in the art. If you wanted to do this, the piece of art would have to be redrawn every time you moved your head.
Here it is: We are seeing dynamic perspective, which is like 3D in HD. it gives the phone depth, so you can see the pyramids at the end of a desert.
Bezos is showing off a number of lock screens: This is really high quality, folks, Air balloons pop out of the sky.
It also works with maps. If you go to the empire state building. It would be the perspective of a helicopter flying over. Not sure if that’s a Google Map…It looks a little different.
He says phone designers are faced with a trade-off: Whenever you put more info on a map it obscures something else. But by using dynamic sensors, you can tilt a little bit to see more or less info.
Yelp reviews come and go depending on which way you tilt the phone. “You’d never want the default to have that much information on the screen because it’s too obscuring,” he says.
A shopping demo: When browsing for a new dress, you can tilt the phone to scroll through the options. When you drill down on a particular dress, the dress zooms in and out. It’s something called “linticular,” which I might be spelling wrong.
An example of dynamic perspective. First, the directional icon blocks the street name. When the phone is tilted by the user, the icon moves out of the way to let the user see around it to the street name.
This also works on newspaper articles, like, oh, say, a “Washington Post,” article, he jokes (He owns it!). Scrolling down the article is done by tilting the phone.
“I’ve been using the phone for several months, whenever I go back to another phone, I keep trying anyway,” he says. “Oh right, it doesn’t work.”
Bezos demos reading a book. Once you’ve found a good speed to read a book by tilting the phone, you can lock that speed in place. Putting your thumb on the screen pauses the motion.
Bezos is ultimately announcing a new way to navigate around your phone. Nifty. Useful. And not too gimmicky.
Another way to manage your phone are through a bunch of widgets. Delete emails without opening the whole app, or Zillow built an active widget for nearby homes for sale.
We are still drilling down on a lot of particular features. We have not seen a lot of the central UI.
Bezos is feeling good. He’s got another joke, this time about Justin Timberlake: “I have unbelievable admiration for anyone who can make a tiny fedora cool, seriously. It’s harder than building a smartphone.”
Angry tofu delights Bezos, so here’s a game demo under the same title. There’s depth to the deadly spikes. You can look around the game, avoiding hazards to save Fortune Kitty.
The first question Bezos gets about this: How the heck do you even do that? The key is in knowing where the user’s head is all the time. Many, many times a second.
This has been in the works for four years, and we had early prototypes in the first week. If you have to know where the user’s head is all the time, you have to do this: Have a piece of headgear on the person. The problem? The dorky headgear.
All of the problems they can encounter: Bad lighting, beards, hats, make-up, big hear, sunglasses.
Why not use the existing front-facing camera? That doesn’t work because the field of view is too narrow. So, Amazon has made special camera that can see more.
The ultimate solution is four cameras, so that no matter how you hold your camera, at least two are working. The cameras are also infrared, so they can work in pitch darkness.
Bezos showing the infrared sensors that accompany each camera, for sensing head movement of the user in the dark. Invisible to user, turned on by software depending on lighting conditions.
Bezos is loving this. It’s so clear that he’s been involved from day one of this project.
This is the ultimate machine-learning problem: You need lots of data to make this happen. They did it in a lab with a robot collecting images from various heads with disco lighting to collect millions of images.
They also went out into the real world, so they could become amazingly good at tracking faces and heads in real-time.
He’s breaking how they’ve developed this so completely, I hope Amazon’s competitors are watching and taking notes.
All that sensor data boils down into three numbers: X-Y-Z coordinates.
Oh wait, never mind. It’s no top secret stuff. There’s a Dynamic perspective development kit for developers. “Developers will blow us away with what they can do.”
OK, so what’s this thing going to cost? Any bets?
Bezos is switching course. He says people like the small touches too. In the calendar app, a tilt to the right will let you send a message to everyone attending a meeting with canned messages, like “running late,” “start without me.”
A potential marriage saver: The ringer will turn back on automatically after three hours, so you don’t have to remember to turn it back on after the movie ends.
Back to the lockscreen: The dynamic perspective wallpapers are so cool that a swipe to the right, exposes a whole photo album, rather than having to tap through to the photo app.
Yep, there’s an AT&T Exclusive for the Fire phone.
AT&T’s Ralph de la Vega takes the stage.
Ralph says I’ve used a lot of phones in my days: “What I really think makes the phone different are four key features. They are absolutely break-through and innovative.”
He loves dynamic perspective and also FireFly, which scans everything in his pantry instantly. He says: “I’m going to buy a whole lot more things than ever before.”
Folks it’s also for sale. Check Amazon.com. The phone costs $199 and will start shipping July 25.
Here’s the link to the Fire Phone product page — http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00EOE0WKQ/15-24-20/
Ralph de la Vega says: Sign up for a traditional two-year contract, or with a Next contract, so that means zero down. No activation fee, no upgrade fee.
Waiting to hear more about Amazon Prime data plans, but Ralph just left the stage with the first phone fresh off the factory line.
Bezos is recapping
All included for $199 for two-year contract or $27/month: Dynamic perspective, firefly button, mayday, unlimited photo storage, dozens of “small touches,” exclusive features, like ASAP, and Amazon’s content. This is 32 GB of storage. Pre-order today and ships July 25.
Amazon Prime is included for 12 months. If you are an existing Prime member, we’ll give you 12 months, too.
Leading up to today’s events, the biggest leaks all had to do with 3D or “dynamic perspective,” but the real cool features have to do with Firefly. It’s like Shazam, but not just for music recognition.
Bezos ends with: “I hope you have as much fun using the phone as we had building it.”
Much more coverage to come, thanks for reading. Let us know in the comments what more you want to learn about the phone.