A Kindle battery that lasts for two years, so you only have to charge your e-reader on a biennial basis.
A stylus that recognises your handwriting and converts it into a “digital shopping list.”
A 3D tablet that doesn’t require the user to wear any glasses.
These are a few of the things that Lab126, the 3,000-person division at Amazon that’s responsible for hardware, had been working on in recent years.
These secretive projects, along with others and some with really cool code names, were detailed in a Wednesday report from the Wall Street Journal’s Greg Bensinger.
Unfortunately, it’s doubtful you’ll ever see any of these projects come to life. The Wall Street Journal says Amazon has “dismissed dozens of engineers” from Lab126, and it’s also “scaled back or halted” many of these hardware projects.
It’s likely these rollbacks are happening due to the reception of the Fire Phone, Amazon’s first smartphone that was initially met with much fanfare last year. Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, introduced the phone at a huge event in Seattle in front of a crowd of Amazon employees, journalists, and select diehard Amazon customers.
The Fire Phone came packed with technology — four cameras on the front that offered 3D-like depth to images on the screen, as well as a camera on the back that scanned text and barcodes.
But, by and large, the whole package didn’t appeal to consumers or reviewers. The phone, which Amazon reportedly spent years developing, also didn’t have anywhere close to the number of apps available for the iPhone or phones running the Android operating system.
It was also more expensive than Amazon’s typical devices. Amazon typically sells hardware at cost and then makes money when people pay to download media, like books, movies, and TV shows. The Fire Phone started at the same price as the iPhone ($US650) and some premium Android smartphones.
In an interview last December at Business Insider’s Ignition conference, however, Bezos stopped short of admitting the phone was a failure, telling the audience to “stay tuned.”
“Experiments are, by their very nature, prone to failure,” Bezos told Henry Blodget, Business Insider’s CEO and editor-in-chief. “A few big successes compensate for dozens and dozens of things that didn’t work. Bold bets — Amazon Web Services, Kindle, Amazon Prime, our third-party seller business — all of those things are examples of bold bets that did work, and they pay for a lot of experiments.”
You may not think of Amazon, which has been in the spotlight recently after The New York Times detailed harsh working conditions at its Seattle headquarters, as a hardware company. But Amazon has released many products developed at Lab126 over the last couple of years. Some, like the Kindle line of e-readers as well as the Fire TV and Fire TV Stick (devices that plug into your TV to stream video), have been relatively successful.
Lab126 was also responsible for the development of the $US5 Dash buttons, which are product-specific buttons that immediately order the items they’re advertising when pressed. Dash buttons were released last year and many thought they were an an April Fool’s gag.
The division also developed the Echo, a smart speaker that listens for commands, which my colleague Steve Kovach called “magical and delightful to use.”
Read Bensinger’s article in the WSJ for more details on the layoffs, Lab126, and other products under development at the division.
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