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Rounded corners? Pah! Amazon's '3D phone has eye-tracking tech'

Now THAT'S what we call a proper new feature

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Amazon is reportedly planning to launch a smartphone with an active 3D display. It is claimed the device has been shown to developers in California ahead of an official unveiling in June, and that the tech will go on sale in September.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the glasses-free 3D technology uses "retina" tracking, but this highly unlikely. It's much more practical to track either the position of the iris or the pupil, we reckon.

An advanced display, along with material supplied Kindle-style from Amazon, would set the online marketplace's mobile gear apart from rival hardware.

Mobile phones (and devices like the Nintendo 3DS) that use lenticular 3D have been around for the best part of 20 years, and were popular in Japan in the late 1990s. They work by having a lens over the screen which matches up with the vertical pixels of the screen and sends images for the left and right eye out at slightly different angles.

When viewed from a sweet spot this gives the viewer the experience of realistic 3D, but the viewing angle is very restricted – which makes it difficult to watch anything for a long period of time, which necessarily precludes playing games.

You can buy a laptop which does the same thing... now

Toshiba spent around $100m to develop a technology which tracks the position of the eyes and dynamically moves the sweet spot to maintain the 3D image.

The project was abandoned after a few prototypes and the (discontinued) Qosmio F750 laptop had been made, but not before a few Tosh engineers who had worked on the project formed a company called Liquid 3D. The firm produces a 15.6-inch 1080p glasses-free monitor with a built-in camera that motion-tracks the viewer's eyes. I tried this recently.

The Liquid 3D active lenticular display

The Liquid 3D display uses the camera at the top to track your eyes

The effect is spectacularly good. It has the "you can reach out and touch it" feeling that good 3D effects produce, and so is well-suited to games.

The monitor uses the side-by-side video format – you can find a huge amount of such content on YouTube and DVDs, or even record your own with a suitable 3D mega-cam.

Liquid 3D's screen is not standalone, it needs the camera to be driven by a PC, and so even in point-of-sale applications you need more than just a video player behind it. You can't, for instance, simply plug it into a Playstation for 3D games. And, of course, only one person can watch it at a time.

The UK company QLT – a newly formed division of the super high-end displays company Frontniche – will be selling both the Liquid 3D screen and a gaming laptop which will play 3D vid. The screen costs £1,000 and the laptop £50 shy of £2,000, both prices excluding VAT. The company is still building its website, but product should be available through Frontniche.

If the new Amazon phone does indeed use the same technology, it could be a spectacular differentiator for the mobe-maker, and would explain why Amazon is courting games developers. The Unity 3D engine used in a lot of Android games supports side-by-side 3D, so Amazon might hope to launch the new device with a reasonable games portfolio.

The supposed September launch date is, of course, for the United States and will be aimed at the Thanksgiving shopping fest. There is no word on when it might reach Blighty. ®

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