As we ramp to Amazon’s event later in the week, it is kind of fun to watch the speculation with a lot of the emphasis on the belief that 3D will fail again. Don’t get me wrong , it certainly could , but it reminds me a great deal of how so many folks thought the first iPhone would fail for similar reasons. Let’s look back at why the iPhone should have failed and ahead to what the Amazon Fire Phone 3D could do to revolutionize the industry. Let’s chat about that in advance of Thursday’s launch.
The Problem with “Amazing”
It is hard to do something amazing, really hard. We tend to lock down into a way of doing things and turn up our noses at changes even if those changes are an improvement. Take for instance the keyboard, it wasn’t designed for speed it was designed so that typewriters, which used little metal arms to print the text, didn’t get jammed (two or more arms moving at once got tangled). Yet even though there are clearly faster formats for both using and learning we still use that same layout even on phones. We don’t like change much. This is largely why Samsung and Google copied the iPhone and before that so many other firms copied Blackberry or Palm on Smartphones or PDAs they didn’t want to take the risk of folks not liking an improvement and relegating their new wonder to the trash can.
You saw this most recently with the Google self-driving car. Ideally for a car like this you’d use a joystick interface because it would be far cheaper and more efficient in a drive by wire vehicle than a traditional steering wheel and pedals. But Google recognized that folks would have a cow over these changes so they left an interface out (good luck if someone hacks the car or the computer crashes).
3D’s A Dud
The problem that Amazon is going to have, much like Apple had with the iPhone’s design, is that folks have already concluded that 3D is stupid because it sucked on TVs. Apple had the same problem with their screen phone design because that design was excessively fragile, very inefficient (compared to a keyboard phone) with battery power, harder to use and more dangerous (because you had to look at the phone to type on it), and more expensive. However Apple got the market to see the phone for its advantages which mostly had to do with the fact that a big screen was better for web, video, gaming, and apps than a small screen phone and now that format is the standard.
Amazon has to get us to see 3D as amazing and it could be.
The big advantage for 3D on a phone is you don’t need glasses, and the image is far more “real” than on a 2D phone if you have 3D content. This last was a bit tricky with TVs because there were few movies and even fewer TV shows and sports, which looked wonderful on the sets, didn’t scale to sports bars because of the damn glasses.
Once you remove the glasses and add a 3D camera suddenly you have all kinds of potential content. You can present the icons in 3D making them look like actual objects, Netflix or Fandango could look like a movie theater for instance rather than a 2D box with a name in it, you can present avatars in 3D (Amazon’s version of Siri could present as a hot guy or girl with eyes that would follow you), games would look more realistic, and you could watch 3D movies in 3D.
But I expect the real “wow” would be pictures and video conferencing using one phone to another. If you are looking through another Amazon phone remotely, either at the speaker or at what they are looking at you’d get an image that would be far closer to actually being there. And if you have one of those underused 3D TVs you’d suddenly get a lot of videos and pictures you could share on it. A 3D YouTube like service from Amazon could actually then scare Google.
Wrapping Up: 3D Could be Cool
Now this all depends on how Amazon presents this phone because they’ll face a problem similar to the one Microsoft faced with the Zune. The Zune’s most compelling feature was the ability to share music legally, but it only worked if both people had Zunes and they never got to critical mass. But instead of pushing video, durability, common ports, or games all of which the Zune could do better than the iPod of that time, they pushed music sharing and the device died. For Amazon they need to focus on what the Amazon phone will initially do out of the box and make sure it does those things incredibly well and save things like 3D video conferencing and sharing (except on 3D TVs) for later and when they have critical mass.
I think this phone could be a huge hit but they’ll have to avoid repeating the Zune mistakes. We’ll see in a few days, but shortly we may be up to our armpits in 3D phones because if Amazon has a hit you know Samsung and Google will quickly move to copy it.
President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
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