Meet the Japanese Supplier Behind Amazon's 3D Phone
June 6, 2014 2:53 PM
Facial recognition technology could be used to mine a user's gender, age, and race
Amazon.com, Inc. (
) has confirmed
a June 18 launch date
for its Fire OS smartphone. The long-rumored phone is Amazon's first foray into the smartphone market.
I. Amazon Phone Gets Official
Rumors of an Amazon Fire OS phone heated up in Apri
l of this year, with multiple sources leaking details of the upcoming device, which was reportedly in the late stages of testing in the wild. One of the most intriguing features is the unique 3D GUI, which adjusts itself by watching the user's facial orientation. Four infrared cameras in the corners of the device track the user's facial position.
Amazon itself has posted a teaser that more or less confirms this feature:
And thanks to
we now know the supplier behind this technology -- Japan's OMRON Corp. (
). The name isn't very well known among U.S. consumers, as OMRON is primarily a supplier of medical equipment electronics and automation for factory machinery. But the Japanese electronics firm has also been experimenting with facial tracking for consumer electronics based on some of the same technologies it uses to track plant workers to safeguard them from heavy machinery.
With some heavy modifications, Amazon and OMRON were able to tune the company's
offering to deliver its desired stereoscopic GUI. One perk is that rather than have to swipe or waste screen space on pull out menus, users can access them simply by tilting their head up or down or side to side.
OMRON's system uses the phone's IR cameras, its accelerometer, and gyroscope to quickly determine the user's head orientation with respect to the phone face, with little power used in the process. Amazon has reportedly been courting top developers to use a currently secret SDK to produce versions of their apps that take advantage of these extreme 3D parallax effects. It also has redesigns its core apps to take advantage of them.
About the only disappointment is that
reports that the phone is indeed going to be 720p (1280x720) in resolution, as some others have suggested. Given that the phone is only 4.7-inches (versus the Android flagship standard of 5 to 5.5 inches), this lower resolution may be less noticeable, though.
II. Facial Recognition Data Mining?
While Amazon's relationship with Okao is reportedly currently focused solely on head tracking, Amazon could one day use some of the other features in Okao's software kit for some potentially lucrative data-mining. The kit contains
algorithms to recognize a user's gender, age and ethnicity
based on their skin color and facial features.
It would not be surprising to see Amazon eventually embrace such features -- despite the controversy -- as one of its strongest showings with Fire OS has been content delivery.
Amazon first delved in to the LCD tablet market
in Sept. 2011 with the Kindle Fire
, a 7-inch tablet
powered by a forked version
of Google Inc.'s (
) Android, Fire OS. Fire OS tablets
quickly became the strongest challenger
to Apple, Inc.'s (
) dominance of the tablet market, and while they've waned slightly since as traditional Android offerings grew in popularity, they remain a crucial component of the tablet market.
Amazon has been a top performer in paid content for tablets.
One key reason why
Amazon's Fire OS tablets
-- now in third place -- remain relevant is that much like Apple, they have seen strong consumption of paid content. Studies have shown that Fire OS in some cases leads all tablets in paid eBook sales.
Thus the Fire OS phone will likely be scrutinized not only for its unit sales, but in content sales, as well, as analysts look to see whether Amazon's users continue to consume some kinds paid content at a higher rate than Android users. If those trends hold up, it the Fire OS phone could be a boon to Amazon's bottom line. And if Amazon can use Okao's advanced image-based data mining techniques to improve its suggestions to users, it could ensure that happens.
"We are going to continue to work with them to make sure they understand the reality of the Internet. A lot of these people don't have Ph.Ds, and they don't have a degree in computer science." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis
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