Can Amazon finally make 3D video a thing?


We've come a long way.  (Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)

The buzz is building around the mysterious gadget that Amazon.com is showcasing in a public event this month, with the general consensus being that the tech giant is about to launch a phone that can project or at least display 3D images.

The idea that Amazon might launch a phone that has some sort of 3D capability is actually one that surfaced last year. As my Switch colleague Brian Fung noted, the promotional video features a lot of head-tilting that could indicate those reports are true. Business Insider notes that there's even something that clearly looks like a phone visible in Amazon's promo video.

If Amazon can actually make a 3D display work in something that appeals to a wide audience, it will crack a problem that the tech industry has had for years -- how to get people to actually adopt 3D display technology.

It won't be easy. We've been here, or somewhere near it, before. Back  in 2011, when 3D video seemed like the coming trend, both HTC and LG tried to jump start a 3D smartphone movement. Both made phones with glasses-free displays that displayed images with depth, if not ones that actually popped up out of the screen. Complaints about short battery life plagued both models. And the fact that users could only watch their 3D video on those specific devices kept the format from really taking off -- the phones simply weren't widespread enough.

Fast-forward three years, and some things have changed. For one, it seems more possible than ever that the real promise of a 3D display -- projecting holograms -- could feasibly work in a phone. One company, Ostendo, made headlines earlier this week after the Wall Street Journal featured the company's tiny, smartphone-sized holographic projector, which promises to bring crisp, usable holograms to your phone that pop out of the screen, rather than images that look fully fleshed-out to the user in front of them.

In that case, the reach problem wouldn't be as much of an issue, especially since the rumor mill indicates that Amazon won't be restricting the feature to only the media you'd want to share, such as video, but applying it more broadly to things such as the icons.

What hasn't changed is that the amount of skepticism Amazon's supposed "3D phone" faced on its last time through the rumor mill.

Apart from a couple of notable applications -- mapping, perhaps, or video gaming -- many consumers are scratching their heads about what they'd do, exactly, with a phone that projects 3D images. Sure, the idea that you could video chat, or even watch video in holographic form sounds intriguing. But it hardly seems practical in every day life unless you're willing to literally broadcast what you're doing on your phone to those around you.

In other words, if the rumors are true, Amazon will have to put forward a seriously good application of the technology on the phone to make a holographic display seem like anything other than a gimmick.

Disclosure: Amazon.com chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos is the owner of The Washington Post.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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