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Amazon’s 3D smartphone is a gimmick—but it could present a huge retail opportunity

It’s rumored that Amazon will launch its own 3D smartphone on June 18. While it may be compelling, a sexy 3D feature won’t catapult Amazon into the lead of the cut-throat smartphone category. If this were true, the EVO 3D, introduced two years ago by HTC and the W960, introduced by Samsung four years ago, would have been top sellers rather than niche products. However, a smartphone that renders 3D images does present an internet retailing opportunity for Amazon. It would be useful to Amazon in selling tangible consumer merchandise, just like Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet was designed to improve Amazon’s merchandizing of ebooks and video streaming products.

3D images would give consumers a multidimensional mobile view of the products that they might buy on amazon.com, which would likely increase the conversion rates of users viewing product listings into purchases. Typically, a listing without an image won’t convert as well as one with an image, and a listing with an optimized image will convert even better. The multiple cameras reported to be in the Amazon smartphone could be applied to creating rich 3D images that would improve conversion rates even further. Data aren’t available on conversion rates attributable to 3D mobile imaging but there are many case studies of increased e-commerce conversion rates from 360-degree rotatable web images. Adobe’s Darin Archer, head of Product Strategy for eCommerce told Quartz:

“Adobe has been in the 3D rotatable image business for a long time helping customers such as Audi USA, Philips and Verizon Wireless create rotatable images that in turn help their customer’s replicate in-store experiences online. It fits a really wide range of product price points such as $50,000 Audi’s sedans and sub-$100 Philips razors. This is not just point-of-sale conversions; for example, the selection of a repair part for expensive medical devices can be confirmed to be correct by rotating it in 3D and viewing it from all angles. Our customers can conservatively experience a 10 – 40% increase in conversion rates accompanied by a better ROI on their website investment.”

If this technology is pervasively adopted it could also help the company attract more mobile app developers. Due to its much smaller market share, to date Amazon has attracted fewer than 190,000 apps to its app store, dwarfed by the Google Play Store’s 1.5 million apps and the Apple App store’s 1.2 million apps.

If 3D images created on Amazon’s smartphone could also be displayed on all Android and iOS  mobile devices, their merchandizing value would be much higher. Except for Google and Apple, there are few companies other than Amazon that could push a major 3D update to a large segment of the smartphone market. Since many smartphones and tablets ship preloaded with the Amazon apps, Amazon can include a 3D visualization capability to its apps through Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store. After the update, all of these smartphones and tablets could become virtual 3D Amazon Marketplace showrooms.

Apparently Amazon is seeking developers who can build apps to extend its 3D technology beyond merchandizing and make it a staple on consumers’ smart devices. In the application for developers to attend the June 18th event, Amazon asks them to “describe an innovative way in which you have used gyroscopes, accelerometers, or other device sensors in your app development.” These sensors measure the differences in the smartphone’s handheld orientation to change the user’s perspective of a 3D image by tilting and swiveling the device.

Presumably, Amazon understands that only Apple and Samsung profit in the mobile hardware business and  that it would be sheer folly to enter the smartphone hardware market this late in its evolution. And it doesn’t matter if Amazon’s smartphone renders depth-mapped 3D images or holograms that float above the smartphone. What matters is that Amazon delivers a device that generates profits for its other businesses. If Amazon can prove that its 3D technology works, it could overcome its small mobile market share and gain the relevance it needs to attract a larger developer community to build 3D apps and a 3D ecosystem with its technology.

Follow Steven on Twitter at @stevep2007We welcome your ideas at ideas@qz.com.

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