Welcome to my liveblog of Amazon’s device launch event June 18, 2014, in Seattle. If you do not see the updates when you arrive here, click once on the title of this post, immediately above the Amazon.com logo. You will then see my contemporaneous updates as I write them. Please feel free to share this link with others. I hope you enjoy the show!
Now Brett and I are headed over to Amazon for lunch and then a chance to try one of these babies. More later…
No updates for Paperwhite or Kindle Fire. This was all about the Fire Phone. $199 price with two year contract does not blow me away, but when I consider all the engineering that’s going into this device, I can image that price is pretty close to cost. Just the little jiggle reduction action of the camera must have added some cost. Plus the four cameras, the infrared sensor, and on and on. If these features catch on, it will be tough for competitors operating on a non-Amazon model to come close to the price, I bet.
Bezos: I hope you guys have as much fun using this phone as we did building it. And we’re done.
Watching an ad now. A moment to catch my breath. We’ve been at this for an hour and a half, and I’m running out of mental RAM with all that’s been presented. Phone is even more impressive from design innovation than I expected. Mayday is huge, Firefly is cool, and 3D gets my respect simply for how many obstacles the Amazon engineers surmounted. Lab126 rules!
Fire Phone 32 GB sells for $199 with two year contract, preorder today for shipment July 27. Includes a year of Prime membership
Jeff gives very first Fire phone off the line to de la Vega, wrapped in a red bow.
“Warm handoff” between Mayday tech and AT&T tech, de la Vega says. That will be important. Will AT&T be able to match Amazon response time?
Available for pre-order TODAY.
Jeff introduces Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T Mobility, to talk about phone plan. Says he loves Firefly. Showed it to an assistant, saying “don’t touch it, or you’ll order something with one click.”
On Fire Phone, goes into calendar. Realizes he’ll be late to next panel where there are pre-prepared text messages to send to people at meeting.
Ringer on, switch it off for 3 hours for a movie and it goes back on, for a movie.
Things that people do frequently and wish could be done easier. In messaging, right panel shows recent photos. Tap and it drops into the Text message. To do the same thing on your current phone will take more taps.
Lock screen is 3D. Swipe to right there is a whole photo album that I can have one swipe away from lock screen, to scroll through photos. I’m underwhelmed by that one, but still.
“You won’t get this experience any where else. It’s truly unique in the marketplace,” one game developer says.
Video of app developers shows them saying how easy the SDK is to add to Android platform. It only took a day to get tracking built into our game, one says.
Hotgen guy: no glasses or helmets, non-gimmicky.
Solution is to collect lots of images of faces. To get a robust product you need to move out to real world, collecting millions of images in real world. At the end of all this, “we got real good at tracking faces, finding heads.” We’re almost there, he says. you can find them where you don’t want to find them. A face on a mug. Sensor shifts from real face to face on the mug, or a t-shirt. An ingenious solution to the cherub problem. That head is too small, so it’s rejected. Or tracking your face among a group of faces. All comes down to X Y and Z location of face. Tie them in to 3D renderer.
We are deep in the weeds of the invention here, which makes the point that anyone trying to catch up is going to spend years doing it. Also, that this is a company that LOVES inventing things, a message deep in the DNA of Amazon and its founder. He has taken on the cast of a scientist in his lab, sharing discoveries. SDK kit is available immediately for developers.
Solution: use front facing camera to track the head. Doesn’t work for many reasons. Field of view is too narrow, only 72 degrees. User’s head goes out of the frame too much. Made special cameras with 120 degrees field of view. Face stays in the frame.
You also need to know Z depth, add 2 cameras for depth. Not done yet. Users obscure the cameras. Added 2 more cameras. Now 4 corner cameras. No matter how you hold the phone, two will be able to see where your head is.
Next problem: using phone in darkness. Cameras have to work in pitch black. Added infrared lights, one for each camera. Amazing. Global shutter cameras are 10 times as powerful as alternative.
Great stereo images in any lighting conditions. But everybody’s different. People wear sunglasses, sometimes on foreheads. They have beards, hats, no hair–“that’s my personal favorite” Jeff says.
Bezos: the key is knowing where the user’s head is at all times, in real time, many times a second. We started working on this more than 4 years ago. Had part of it working the first week. Early prototypes included weird head gear. That would never be commercially practical. Right about that.
The way to do this: computer vision.
Carousel like on the Fire. When you move an app to center of carousel view, info within it shows up below. Smooth interface.
Three panel design illustrated with Music app. Justin Timberlake album as example. Left panel is navigation, center shows album cover, right is synchronized lyrics. You move from one to the other by tilting the phone left to right. Skip to the part of the song where the particular lyric is.
Crowd has been quiet during this gee whiz part of the presentation. We are all trying to keep up, to take in these new ways of looking at a screen and navigating a smart phone. Make that brilliant phone, a new category is being presented to us today.
Scrolling a web page: tilt one way or the other to scroll up or down. Auto scroll is so natural, that every time you try a device without it, you will try tilting. You read without touching the screen.
In a book: Beautiful Ruins. Same ability to scroll to by tilting. Tilt more to scroll faster. Or let it scroll infinitely. Or by pages. Can choose speed by tilting and then lock that speed in with a tap. “Brilliant designers.”
“Let’s say I’m reading my book and somebody asks me a question. I can put my thumb on it and it stops. Lift my thumb up and it goes.” Bam, you’re back to your reading.
Tilt while viewing models in dresses, moves forward or back without touching the screen. Tilt a little to enlarge image. Uses dynamic perspective sensing to see back of the dress or front. Amazing. The people in that teaser video weren’t lying.
In maps, Empire State Building moves around as you change view. Now in Maps, looking for Thai restaurants. Location pin obscures a location usual. Move the phone to get a different view. It’s natural, because it’s how physical objects work in real world. If you change angle it reveals Yelp reviews or other info.
Info revealed with a gentle tilt. That’s dynamic perspective. Pretty subtle, but powerful.
Video shows how a scene changes if you move around. That’s the way pictures work now. If the picture knew where your eyes are, it could adjust, giving a real 3D effect. Would need to redraw the picture every time you move your head. A thousand artist standing by to do this 60 times a second.”We call this dynamic perspective.” A lock screen shows it in action. Pretty cool.
perspective in painting has been around 600 years without much change. “Maybe we can improve a little…”
2D flat art from Egypt on the screen. Here comes 3D effect…
myfitnesspal can tell you the nutrition info on a Cheetos package in a a vending machine. An example of 3rd parties using the Firefly SDK. iHeartRadio built theirs in a day. Vivino takes image of wine label and brings up info on the wine.
Firefly OCR can tell when a phone number it sees is incorrect. It sees 703, because image on sign is blurry. It corrects to 708 because it figures out there is no 703 in that area code.
An image on a round post on a sidewalk. Aim Fire Phone at it, press Firefly. Takes a 2.1 MB image, shrink it and eliminate all but the OCR information, compressing to 13 KB, just sending parts that matter. Makes it faster. Tons of techniques to make it work in the real world.
Firefly has it’s own dedicated button on the side of the phone. Press and hold no matter what you’re doing, even from lock screen, up comes Firefly to recognize stuff. Elimination of friction everywhere possible – that’s Amazon’s MO. And it makes a huge difference.
Firefly can recognize TV shows. Listens to a Game of Thrones episode. Shows which episode and scene. We are 49 minutes and 1 second into the scene, can see X-Ray details on actors.
Firefly can recognize art. Aims it at a painting, shows the Wikipedia entry. Learn about the artist and painting. He aims Fire Phone at screen to show Man with Red Hat. Take it to the museum!
If walking down the street, you can aim it at a sign that has a phone number. Fire Phone will bring it up so you can dial it. Amazing stuff.
FireFly. Jeff aims Fire Phone at items on a table, from book to detergent. A beep sounds, and it registers them. Shows the history for those devices. Listing shows star ratings. Tap on any of them, you can buy the Kindle edition, Audible, share with a friend. There is a Firefly button that does this.
Firefly can listen to a song, identify it, show you were to buy it at MP3 music store. See it at iHeartRadio. 3rd party apps can use it.
Customers say they hate looking for answers in forums. Or I would go to a store and ask a tech rep. “I know I don’t use my smartphone to full capacity…”
What if you need a little help? How about Mayday? Bingo. This is going to be huge. People will actually have an easy way to get help with this phone. Thinking of my parents in their 80s. And it’s free. 24/7 365 days a year. Over WiFi and 3G/4G
We lavished attention on reading. ComiXology looks terrific. Audible, immersion reading and Whispersync for voice. These are great capabilities.
Customer support: Video shows people saying they don’t know how to use smartphone. “It’s in settings somewhere…” Customers struggling with how to do stuff. Here comes the Mayday announcement, I bet…
Fire Phone will have some of the features of Fire TV like predictive caching, ASAP. Open ecosystem includes Netflix, Hulu, HBO go.
Music: X-ray for music to show lyrics. Prime Music with more than a million songs free for Prime Members. No ads.
Compares same scene on Samsung S5 and iPhone 5S to show benefit of Optical Image Stabilization . Instant access: a button to activate camera, then press again to take photo. PLUS – unlimited photo storage on Amazon cloud.
Dual stereo speakers on phone, Dolby digital plus virtual surround.
Little electric motors adjust the lens 100 times a second to stabilize photos. Amazing. 5 MP more camera resolution than iPhone 5S
“We obsessed over outdoor viewing.” 590 nits. circular polarizer, (no idea.) A lot of power under the hood. Quad core 2.2 GHz processor. 2 GB RAM. Camera: 13 MP rear-facing camera. Optical image stabalization.
The Fire Phone. Held aloft to applause. Nice moment.
Mr. Pine’s Purple House cover on the screen, the book Bezos sent to us all, his favorite childhood book. His mother read it to him hundreds of times at his request. She’s in the audience and gets a round of applause.
Most frequent question over past few years: Is Amazon going to build a phone? Why people ask this: world class hardware expertise, hundreds of millions of engaged customers. We ask “How would it be different” – superimposed on Mr. Pine’s purple house. Thanks, Mom.
How to earn trust: 1. Do hard things well. 2. Repeat. “If you do that and you stick with it, customers notice.”
Amazon number one four yeas running in customer service survey. Applause. Whistling. YouGov Brand index has Amazon at number one, Kindle 1 at 10. Just behind Cheerios. “Watch out, Cheerios,” Jeff says.
Bezos recalls early harsh reviews of first Kindle. Now there are tens of millions of Kindle owners. Fire HDX quote from the New York Times, a rave description.
There are enough customers here to result in applause not heard in previous press conferences attended only by media.
Hardware review. Reputation is a trailing indicator of excellence,” Jeff says. What’s the most important thing Amazon has done? Hardware? Prime memberships. Answer: Earn trust with customers. Applause. “We’ve worked hard to do that.”
“The only decent life choice I’ve ever made is Amazon Prime. – a tweet from MissBumptious. “I bet that’s not true,” Jeff quips.
Jeff Bezos wears jeans, light blue shirt, gray-blue sports coat, stylish leather shoes in black and white.
Patience, persistence and attention to detail are reasons for Amazon Prime’s success. “We seek to be renewal worthy.” We are trying to build a great service for one customer. The consequence is you can get millions.
Jeff comes on without intro. He says 300 of the 60,000 customers who requested invites are here. “We have a lot of exciting news to share with you here today.” But first, a graph showing growth of Amazon Prime.
They’re showing a customer’s video that he sent to try to score an invite. “That’s me,” the guy shouts from the back. “Please consider me!” and they did. Here’s another one, showing a guy’s Fire TV. These are great homemade commercials, and it’s fun knowing their creators are here in the room with us. “I’m the best, most loyal Amazon customer you have,” another guy says. “I now that whatever it is that you’re planning it’s going to be crazy!”
“If So” by Atlas Genius is playing, with the volume up. I think we’re getting close to show time. No separation of media from customers and developers in seating. The front row was reserved, apparently for Amazon execs. The rest was first-come, first-served. Brett and are 15 feet from the podium. Bezos won’t spend much time there, if this event is like previous ones. He will stroll the stage. Here we go…
Imagine an audience in which no one looks at the stage. We are all bent over laptops, hoping there is enough WiFi to go around. Should be starting any minute now.
And we’re in. Second row of a very dark room with a big Amazon logo on the screen. This looks very much like the state at previous Jeff Bezos Shows in NYC and Santa Monica.
Big scoop from the Kindle Chronicles! We saw this guy by the Royal Restrooms mobile toilet unit, talking on what appeared to be a smart-shoe phone. (Thanks to my assistant Brett McNeil for finding this one online, a promo shot of Max, the bumbling spy from the classic TV show “Get Smart.”)
So far, I have talked with a couple of developers who cannot say anything about what apps they might be working on for The Device That Cannot Be Named. One guy is here from the U.K, and when he was asked why he was traveling to Seattle he had to reply, “I’m just going to go up the Space Needle and then come back.” Right. And along the way he will no doubt spend some time at Amazon today getting specs on possible projects. I got his card, for a possible interview once we can all call this thing by its true name. Another app developer’s nametag said he was from NBC News, not to cover the event but to imagine apps that might be of use in covering the news.
We have arrived at Fremont Studios in time to line up for entrance to the Amazon device launch. Orange umbrellas line a quiet street. Coffee and pastries are on offer. There are two registration tables, one for media and one for developers and customers. By the number of blue lanyards on the non-media table, I am not expect thousands of enthusiastic customers to be in attendance, but I bet they will get great seats at this historic event.
Good morning Seattle! It’s a gray day but no rain. I am about to rendezvous with TKC tech assistant Brett McNeill, who will drive us to Lowell’s Restaurant at Pike Place. We will strategize our coverage of the day’s events. We plan to arrive early at Fremont Studios, where the big debut of Amazon’s phone will take place. Then we will return to Amazon’s campus for lunch and, at 4 p.m., an interview with someone on the team and a chance to try out the new device. I’ve tested my Sony IC recorder and doublechecked my gear. Brett will have backup gadgets, and I hope he will be able to zap me some photos to include here in the liveblog stream. Stay tuned!
This is a test of liveblog photo insertion, using a photo kindly taken this afternoon by a woman working next to me at a table at the Starbucks at Terry and Republican. This Starbucks is right in the middle of the Amazon campus, so people wearing blue lanyards with sky-blue Amazon ID cards outnumbered civilians by a good margin. I wondered how many of them had actually held The Phone. Tomorrow my TKC assistant Brett McNeil and I will have our turns at about 4 p.m. PT in an Amazon demo room. Stay tuned!
Checking in from my hotel, which is just down the street from the Amazon campus. It’s a cool, gray day here in Seattle but not raining. I can see the Space Needle out one window and sailboats out the other. Somewhere nearby the Amazon team is probably going through final rehearsal for tomorrow’s debut of The Device That Cannot Yet Officially Be Called a Phone. Wouldn’t it be a riot if all this is about a brand new eReader? Maybe a Paperwhite 3 that weighs half as much as the current model and comes free with an Amazon Prime membership. That’s probably later this year. Tomorrow will be a phone, else hundreds of in-the-know members of the media will be eating their Reporter’s Notebooks.
The event has not started yet. I am setting up the liveblog during my flight from Denver to Seattle on Tuesday, June 17. Please check back here tomorrow at around 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time for the real thing…