Amazon phone event: Here's what to expect

Major online retailer Amazon is hoping to win the digital hearts, and wallets, of its 250 million customers through a much-rumored smart phone set to be unveiled Wednesday. Is it a smart move?

Heinz-Peter Bader/Reuters/File
A zoomed image of a computer screen showing the Amazon logo in Vienna last year. Amazon is set to release a smart phone on Wednesday.

This Wednesday, the way you see Amazon could change forever.

That’s because the Seattle-based online retailer is reportedly set to unveil its first ever smart phone, in a bid to enter yet another area of commerce. The phone is rumored to be packed with a bevy of features. But the question remains: will Amazon be able to keep up in the increasingly competitive smart phone game?

Let’s start with the good news for Amazon. If rumors prove true, its smart phone is looking sharp. Amazon released a teaser video that indicates the phone could have 3-D imaging capabilities. Gesture-based controls, either from hand or eye movement, are also on the table. PC Advisor reports it will have the solid but not amazing specs: a 4.7 inch screen with a 720p HD resolution, a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, 2GB of RAM, and four cameras with 640 x 480 resolution. Others report that the phone will be exclusive to AT&T in the US.

But Amazon, for once, is at a sales disadvantage. Apple and Samsung largely dominate the US smart phone market; together the two companies have 65 percent market share. The rest is mostly split between a variety of Android companies such as LG and HTC. New phones with innovations such as Apple’s fingerprint swipe technology and Samsung Galaxy’s water resistant cover come out every few months. Can a gimmick, even as intriguing as 3-D imaging, capture sustainable attention from a smart phone market already at saturation?

However, if it catches on, Amazon would have an even more direct line between its customers and its online store. It could offer a virtual wallet, one-click ordering, and offer bundles with Amazon Prime or its grocery delivery service. It could include e-reader abilities borrowed from Kindle. 

Regardless of how customers use it, analysts say its clear that Amazon wants to get in the game before it is too late.

“Mobile is asserting not just its utility but its supremacy,” says James McQuivey, an analyst with Forrester Research, to the New York Times. “If you’re Amazon, you’re worried you’re going to be cut out of the next big interface. So you jump in and make yourself relevant, whether your customer is in the bathroom, the kitchen or the car. You go for broke.”

More shoppers than ever before are using their phones to shop online. In a recent survey, industry watcher comScore found that mobile commerce is now driving 12 percent of total e-commerce dollars, growing double the rate of desktop shopping. 

Amazon is hoping to draw those billions in its direction with new hardware. Will 3-D imaging prove profitable? We’ll find out at Amazon’s event on Wednesday at 1:30 Eastern.

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