Posts Tagged ‘Smartphone’

Beyond 3D: Inside Amazon’s smartphone

April 23rd, 2014

Amazon doesn’t plan to unveil its first smartphone until later this spring, but the world got an early look at the handset last week when BGR posted exclusive photos of the unannounced device. We also shared several key details about the phone’s software, which features unique hardware-assisted 3D effects that will help differentiate Amazon’s smartphone lineup from rival devices.

But Amazon’s 3D effects are just the tip of the iceberg.

Don’t miss our earlier coverage, which included several exclusive photos of Amazon’s first smartphone

BGR has exclusively learned several additional details about the heavily customized Android software that powers Amazon’s smartphone.

Multiple trusted sources tell us that Amazon’s upcoming handset will utilize a unique combination of cameras, sensors and software to dramatically change the way users interact with a smartphone. As we detailed in an earlier report, the company’s first smartphone will feature four low-power infrared cameras on the face of the device that track the position of the user’s head in relation to the phone’s display.

This unique hardware combination of tracking cameras and sensors will facilitate a variety of 3D effects on Amazon’s smartphone, as we reported. These effects will be present in several stock Amazon apps as well as some third-party apps available for download from the Amazon Appstore.

Beyond 3D effects, however, Amazon’s new technology will also enable an entirely new way for users to navigate apps and menus on the phone.

With its first handset, Amazon will introduce a variety of unique gesture controls.

By tilting the handset in different directions while the device is in use, Amazon’s interface will display additional information on the screen without the user having to touch or tap anything. This will not only be a point of differentiation for the company’s phone lineup, but also a way for larger devices such as Amazon’s upcoming 4.7-inch flagship phone to be operated more comfortably with one hand.

Our sources gave us several examples of areas where these new gestures will be utilized.

In the phone’s email and calendar apps where small icons are displayed with no labels, a slight tilt will reveal labels beneath each icon, informing the user of its function. If the user performs a tilt gesture after searching for a restaurant in the maps app, Yelp ratings will appear on top of the various results plotted on the map.

In Amazon’s video store, a tilt gesture displays IMDb ratings on top of movie thumbnails. And when viewing products on, gestures might cycle through images to reveal different product views.

Amazon’s motion sensing and head tracking technology also changes the way users access menus and other features in apps. In fact, we’re told that Amazon’s smartphone apps don’t even have traditional menu buttons. Instead, menus and other functions are accessed by tilting the phone to the right or left. These tilts cause new panels to slide in over the current screen.

So for example, if the user tilts the phone to one side while reading a book in the Kindle app, the phone will open the X-Ray menu, which is a reference tool that provides contextual information relevant to whatever the user might be reading at the time.

A tilt in the messaging app while composing a new message will open up a panel with the phone’s camera roll, allowing users to quickly and easily insert a photo. Tilting the phone to one side while using the weather app reveals the extended forecast.

Amazon has also created several zero-touch controls that are triggered by tilt gestures, our sources said. For example, tilting the phone up or down while reading a book in the Kindle app or while viewing a page in the web browser will scroll the page in the appropriate direction.

Moving beyond the device’s sensors, our sources say there is one additional interesting software feature worth noting.

Amazon’s phone includes a feature that will allow users to capture images of signs and other real-life objects with printed text using the device’s primary rear camera. The software will then automatically recognize the text and convert it into a note using optical character recognition (OCR) and other technology.

We’re told the software can also perform certain functions with the captured text, such as saving information on a business card to a new contact entry, or translating text from a foreign language into English.


Google Vice President for Android Joins Chinese Smartphone Maker Xiaomi

August 29th, 2013

Google Inc.’s vice president in charge of Android will join Xiaomi, a little known Chinese smartphone startup, in a sign of the growing influence of China’s device makers.

Hugo Barra will help with a new push by Xiaomi – pronounced sheow-mee-to develop its international business and be responsible for its strategic cooperation with Google, the Silicon Valley company said Thursday. Xiaomi, based in Beijing, has grown quickly in the world’s largest smartphone market by offering devices with top hardware specs on the cheap. Typically its smartphones cost belowUS$325, though its most recent smartphone sells for $130.

Unlike other Chinese smartphone makers like Huawei Technologies Co. and Yulong Computer Telecommunication Scientific (Shenzhen) Co. – which sells Coolpad branded phones – Xiaomi has made waves with its marketing flare. When it first introduced phones in the summer of 2011, the company offered a limited number online, which led to the phones selling out quickly. Meanwhile co-founder and investor Lei Jun has drummed up interest with hyped product releases.

Though the Xiaomi makes little money off the hardware it sells, its business model revolves around software and service offerings, as well as accessories. The company, which uses its website as its primary sales platform, offers an array of accessories from multi-colored batteries and casings, to hats and even dolls of the company’s rabbit mascot. It also now offers a set-top box, which streams licensed Internet content for the television and is integrated with the software it runs on its phones, which are based on Google’s Android operating system.

The strategy has helped the company–which was founded just three years ago by well-known Chinese investor Mr. Lei and former Google employee Lin Bin– grow its revenue quickly. In 2012, only its second year selling phones, Xiaomi sold more than 7 million phones and generated revenue of 12.65 billion yuan ($2.05 billion). In the first half of this year the company said it has already sold more than 7 million handsets, and is aiming to sell 20 million in 2013.

The success has drawn the attention of investors. Last week, the company confirmed that Xiaomi’s most recent round of fundraising valued it at $10 billion – nearly as much as Chinese computer giant Lenovo Group Ltd.’s $10.1 billion market value. Nonetheless, some analysts have wondered about the valuation, pointing out that the non-existent margins from the company’s hardware sales and stiff price competition in the Chinese market could make it difficult to turn big profits in the coming years.

The hiring of Mr. Barra also shows Xiaomi has ambitions to grow beyond China. In April, it made its first foray into markets outside of the Chinese mainland, selling its phones in Taiwan and Hong Kong. In a press release accompanying Mr. Barra’s hiring, a Xiaomi spokeswoman wrote, “after Hugo joins the team, it’s possible we will take another step in expanding the territory of our international business.”

In a statement posted on Google’s social networking platform, Mr. Barra wrote, “I’ll be joining the Xiaomi team in China to help them expand their incredible product portfolio and business globally…I’m really looking forward to this new challenge, and am particularly excited about the opportunity to continue to help drive the Android ecosystem.”

On Thursday, a Google spokesman also confirmed Mr. Barra’s departure, saying in a statement, “we wish Hugo Barra the best. We’ll miss him at Google and we’re excited that he is staying within the Android ecosystem.”

Mr. Barra’s departure comes after Andy Rubin, who was in charge of the Android operating system at Google, also stepped down earlier this year.

In the second quarter, Xiaomi had a 5% share of China’s smartphone market according to research firm Canalys, which tracks sales in the country. By comparison, Apple Inc. had a 5% market share, while Lenovo had 12%. Samsung Electronics Co. was the biggest vendor with an 18% share.

Yang Jie contributed to this article.


New Smartphone Software Predicts Users’ Mood

August 8th, 2013

The smartphone could end up moonlighting as a mood ring in addition to its job as a computer. MoodSense, a new software package in development by Microsoft Research and Rice University in Texas, doesn’t rely on a camera to capture your smile or a microphone to hear you scream in anger. Instead, it predicts moods from what you do with your phone.

Lin Zhong, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice, saw mood as an important factor in how people interact with one another. “For example, when we deal with a spouse, it’s very important to gauge [his or her] mood to make sure you have a smooth relationship,” he told ABC News.

But asking someone about their mood or even saying how you feel out loud could be considered intrusive and even rude. “It’s become a little obnoxious to tell people [on Facebook or Skype] whether you’re feeling great or sad,” said Zhong. “If a computer can do it automatically, it’s a more socially acceptable way to share your mood.”

Zhong and graduate student Robert LiKamWa developed MoodSense to track how smartphone users spend their time across different activities such as email, websites and phone calls. Every couple of hours, the software asks users to rate both their happiness and their activity level on a scale of 1 to 5. Eventually, MoodSense gathers enough data to predict how users feel according to their recent activity. After the orientation period, the researchers said MoodSense could predict a person’s mood with 93 percent accuracy.

Shiny Happy People Have a Site to Call Their Own

Md. Munirul Haque, a computer science postdoctoral fellow at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, also developed mood prediction software, called IRENE. IRENE, however, used either a phone camera or a webcam to take a snapshot and predict what mood users were in, which he acknowledged had its problems. “People can easily fake their moods in their pictures,” he wrote in an email. “But it is highly improbable to fake mood through hundreds of activities being done in a smartphone.”

Zhong sees the software package as a way to avoid awkward moments in digital conversations. “When someone is calling, they’ll know the person’s mood beforehand and be able to better handle that call,” he said. In addition, MoodSense will also create an API that will broadcast moods the same way GPS devices broadcast location. App developers can use the API and incorporate mood-based functions into their software.

Ultimately, it’s up to the smartphone developers to decide whether or not they want MoodSense as part of their software package. “I hope it will be available in a couple of years,” said Zhong. “But I’m only a professor. I’m not the VP of Microsoft.”


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