Today may prove to be one of Amazon's biggest announcements yet.
If rumors leading up to the event are correct, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos will trot out the company's first smartphone, a device with a 4.7-inch screen that displays 3-D images and video and lets users navigate around with hand gestures and head movements rather than by tapping icons or clicking links. But does a new smartphone have any chance of being be a hit? After all, Apple and Google's Android have a colossal head start.
What ever Amazon <!-- ?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" standalone="no"? --> (amzn) unveils is anyone's guess until the company's event in Seattle starts at 10:30 AM PST / 1:30 PM EST today. For a blow-by-blow account, stay right here for live updates through the event. (Just remember to refresh – often.)
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12:04: A longish commercial with avid early Fire Phone customers. Bezos: "I hope you have as much fun using this phone as much we loved building it. Thank you so much for coming." And that's a wrap! (Thanks for reading.)
12:03: One more thing: Free Amazon Prime for a year. Good one, Bezos.
12:01: The Fire Phone starts shipping on July 25. Folks can pay either $199 or $27 per month for Fire Phone with 32 gigabytes of built-in storage. Bezos points out that $199 normally scores a smartphone with just half that storage.
11:59: To sum up, Bezos announced the Fire Phone with 4.7-inch display, a new Dynamic Perspective feature that uses four cameras to create a 3-D, glasses-free experience and Firefly, a recognition feature that identifies music, TV, movies and physical goods without the barcode.
11:58: de la Vega says there's no activation fee, upgrade fee or annual contract required.
11:58: Preorders for the Fire Phone start today. No word yet on when it starts shipping.
11:56: de la Vega was "wowed" by consuming Amazon media on the phone. "I was blown away." In other words? "Wow."
11:53: AT&T CEO and President Ralph de la Vega to the stage now. He says the tilting and 3-D features will make Fire phone owners downright "compulsive" in their usage once they get comfortable. "It's 'wow' now, and it's going to get even more 'wow.'"
11:52: The Fire Phone will be available exclusively via AT&T, a factoid The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week.
11:51: You can also choose to have specific photo albums be one or two swipes away. Could be good for favorite photo albums.
11:49: "What if you're going to a 3-hour movie and you want to turn off your ringer for 3 hours??" Bezos asks rhetorically. There's a timer for the ringer now to keep the Fire phone silent for however long you like. Adds Bezos: "This could save marriages!"
11:48: Small touches matter, says Bezos. He's going to show us a couple things. He looks at the Calendar app, tilts left twice to look at his next appointment and bring up some suggested, canned replies.
11:47: Developer testimonials from Zillow and game makers about how easy it is to program for the Fire phone and integrate all that tilting and 3-D goodness.
11:39: These built-in 3-D cameras are "global shutter" cameras versus traditional "rolling shutter" cameras. What this basically amounts to are cameras that are 10 times more energy-efficient.
11:39: More high-faluting tech talk. Basically, Amazon realized they needed four cameras to create a 3-D effect, with at least 2 of those cameras used at any given time.
11:37: How hard was it for Amazon to track users's head movements to create the 3-D "Dynamic Perspective"? Crazy hard, emphasizes Bezos. It's hardly something they created overnight. For one, they developed cameras that have a much wider view than their traditional counterparts.
11:36: Amazon began development of the Fire phone four years ago. Early prototypes involved plastic headgear resembling a caveman's Google Glass.
11:34: Games time. Bezos is collecting his "chi" in a game called "Tofu" something-or-other. Now he's after a character called "Fortune kitty." He's tilting to the left to go left, tilting to the right to move right, and so on.
11:32: Bezos wants you to know you can tilt to control your music. He brings up Justin Timberlake's "Mirrors." "I have enormous admiration for anyone who can make a tiny fedora cool," quips Bezos of Timberlake. "Seriously. It’s harder than designing a smartphone."
11:31: The real estate startup Zillow has a tilt-friendly app that lets users skim housing listings one tilt-at-a-time.
11:30: More tilting to show how supposedly easy all this is. Tilt it, Bezos!
11:29: A simple finger tap on the screen "locks" the screen, so page scrolling won't go amok. Sounds great in theory, but I want to see it unclose for myself.
11:27: Slight tilts of the phone lets the user quickly navigate around apps like Yelp, scroll down through e-books or articles from publications like The Washington Post. (Obligatory plug for the newspaper Bezos purchased last October.)
11:26: At first blush, the 3-D looks much more natural (and less vertigo-inducing) than Nintendo's 3DS video game handheld.
11:25: Bezos cycles through a few examples of Dynamic Perspective: a virtual look around ancient Egyptian ruins, a gander atop the Empire State Building.
11:20: It's basically a lead-up to those much-ballyhooed, long-rumored 3-D feature. Bezos calls it "Dynamic Perspective."
11:17: Bezos switches gears, bringing up classic pieces of religious and Renaissance art...
11:15: Apps like My Fitness Pal and the wine identifying Vivino are throwing their support behind Firefly.
11:14: Firefly can supposedly recognize over 100 million items. There's event a physical button on the side of the Fire phone that acts as a direct shortcut to use the feature.
11:12: Bezos is walking the audience through how Firefly works a bit behind-the-scenes: how Amazon got a fast experience and how it's smart enough to correctly identify phone numbers in images where there's a lot of glare that obfuscates some digits.
11:09: Even better, Firefly recognizes the audio of a song or a few lines of dialogue from a scene of a TV episode. To wit, he demonstrates Firefly with a Game of Thrones episodes from Season 1. It works as advertised. Basically it's like a smarter kind of the music recognition Shazam app, but of course tied into Amazon's vast media ecosystem.
11:07: Introducing Firefly, a new software feature that uses the phone's camera to identify different small goods like paper books, a DVD or a bottle of Nutella spread, even without the barcode. Even the cynic in me will admit this is actually sort of neat.
11:05: Yep, Mayday. Fire phone users will be able to get customer support in less than 15 seconds over wireless Internet or their 3G/4G cell phone connections.
11:03: Cue video playing of confused (non-Fire phone) owners who don't know how to use some features. Who's willing to bet that Bezos is teeing things up for "Mayday," the interactive video chat feature with customer service reps first introduced in the Kindle Fire HDX last year?
11:02: A feature called Whispersync for Voice lets users read e-books and listening to book audio simultaneously. Guess that could be good for some folks on-the-go?
11:01: Bezos is pointing out all the software features the Fire phone has thanks to Prime's services like Prime Instant Video, the recently-launched music streaming service Prime Music, and the e-book-focused Kindle Owners Lending Library.
10:58: Bezos says sound often gets overlooked, suggesting Apple earbuds are pretty janky. So the earbuds that come with the Fire phone have magnetic clasps to avoid cord tangling.
10:57: Bam. Unlimited storage of photos in the cloud via Amazon's Cloud Drive.
10:57: There's a handy physical button on the side of the Fire phone which serves as a shortcut
10:55: It's packing a 13 megapixel camera built with natural image stabilization. Unretouched photos look great.
10:54: Meet the Amazon Fire smartphone, with 4.7-inch screen, quad-core 2.2 GHz processor and 2 GB of RAM.
10:53: Bezos: "Can we make a better phone for Amazon Prime customers?" "Yes, yes we can."
10:51: Bezos's Mom is in the audience. The crowd goes, "Awwww..."
10:49: On the YouGov Index, both Amazon and the Kindle place in the Top 10. "It's hard to get two brands in the Top 10," Bezos remarks. "Watch out, Cheerios!"
10:48: How to earn trust? 1. Do hard things well. 2. Repeat. "You have to this hundreds, thousands of times, over and over and over." Bezos points to the American Customer Satisfaction Index in which Amazon remains #1 four years running.
10:47: Bezos: "What's the most important thing Amazon has done over the last 20 years? ... I think it's something more foundational than that. I think the most important thing we've done over the last 20 years is build trust with customers. We've worked hard to do that."
10:46: Bezos says there are "tens of millions" of Kindle Fire tablet owners now. (I want specifics, Bezos!)
10:45: A walk down memory lane. Bezos reminds us the first Kindle launched 10 years ago. He points to some early criticism, which has changed from calling the first Kindle "kindling" to dubbing the Kindle Fire HDX a "super-fast pleasure." ("Nice," a customer remarks right behind me.)
10:44: Now Bezos is pointing to Tweets from Amazon customers declaring their love for Amazon Prime. "The only decent life choice I've ever made is Amazon Prime" draws laughs.
10:43: Bezos: There are "tens of millions" subscribers to Amazon Prime, the $99 annual membership. He cites the company's video streaming service, Prime Instant Video, with over 40,000 TV episodes and movies as a big draw.
10:40: Bezos sets the stage. Of the 60,000 people who applied to come to the event, just 300 are here this morning. Wowza.
10:38: Cue video of Jason, a hardcore Amazon customer who was dying -- dying! -- to come to today's event. "Please consider me!" He just knows what ever Jeff Bezos announces will be simply "awesome."
10:38: Lights are dimming.
10:36: The event is officially running behind. Some folks are taking the opportunity and beelining for the restrooms. Smart, yo.
10:34: Looks like a packed house. (Some folks are standing off to the side.) There's little to hint at what's to come news-wise. All eyes are on the empty stage.
10:25: And we're in. Mellow, jazzy Spice Girls cover of "Say You'll Be there" playing. Maybe it says something that the cover is better than the original material.
10:07: Still waiting... 23 minutes until the main event. Some of the media are getting antsy. One reporter asks another what they think Amazon will announce. Cue talk about a 3-D smartphone.
9:48 AM PST: We are at the event and waiting to get in. It's a typical overcast Seattle morning. A good chunk of the crowd seems to consist of avid Amazon customers.