The last week has seen the team at BGR talk about a potential design of Amazon’s smartphone. While the hardware remains unconfirmed and unannounced, moving into the smartphone space after working with the Android Open Source Project powered Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD tablets makes sense. What makes less sense is loading up a handset that should be focused on consuming content as the Kindle Fire tablets with a user interface that sounds confusing and unintuitive at best.
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BGR’s Zach Epstein writes:
By tilting the handset in different directions while the device is in use, Amazon’s interface will display additional information on the screen without the user having to touch or tap anything.
I’ll flag up once more this is a single sourced rumor from a single site, magnified by the Internet, but the principle is an interesting one, and it will need to be implemented very carefully to be usable without being frustrating for the end user. Presumably the accelerometer is going to be part of the system so I can lie down and read the handset in bed without the Kindle Phone thinking I am trying to call up a sidebar menu. What about a bumpy ride on public transport? Will these infra-red cameras work in strong sunlight or will you be unable to access the sidebar menus when the sun is out?
Execution will be everything if the handset is to have this ’tilt to use’ function. I’m intrigued to see how this works in practice – I can see it working well in a lab or controlled environment, but put a cat on my shoulders, a crying baby in one arm, and a driving Scottish wind in the supermarket car park and let’s see how well it does.
Amazon would not be the first company looking to change the basic interface paradigm of the smartphone. Jolla’s Sailfish OS dispenses with the buttons on the front of the device, relying on gestures that swipe in from the bezel on the device (although it does have power and volume buttons on the side of the machine). BlackBerry’s BB10 also relies on gestures for popular functions such as returning to the app screen or checking notifications and alerts.
Windows Phone kept their physical controls and soft keys broadly similar to the Android paradigm, but reworked the home screen with large context sensitive tiles rather than shortcut icons in a dense grid. It’s noticeable that as Windows Phone has been iterated towards the latest version, it has added in live tile options so that a six icon wide configuration is now possible, allowing users to retreat to a familiar grid of icons in the launcher.
Every mobile platform has innovation and funky ideas. Some of them catch on and are promptly utilized by their competition in variants with just enough differentiation to keep the lawyers happy. Other features create a unique selling point for a device and the marketing team are thankful. The majority of them are iterated away towards the norm, failed experiments with the public that are quietly sidelined as the UI is steered back towards the normal modes common in the mind of the consumers as ‘must have’ features of a smartphone.
The latter is where I think Amazon’s Tilt UI feature will end up. It sounds like a gimmick purely to have a gimmick that says ‘this phone is different, you should buy me’.
Why is Amazon bothering? Jeff Bezos’ company already has a huge differentiator for their Kindle Phone. Amazon has an app store, Amazon has a significant selection of ebooks and magazines, and Amazon has media deals in place for video content. More importantly, Amazon has the confidence of the consumer in their digital content, and a membership/subscription model in Amazon Prime.
Surely that’s where the marketing will focus on when the Kindle Phone is actually launched, as opposed to a UI option that sounds a wonderful tech demo but has little practical purpose?