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The Wall Street Journal says that Amazon is expanding its hardware offerings with a whole new line of gadgets, including a lame-sounding "audio streaming device" and a pair of next gen smartphones. We're going to be super honest. While the news is entirely unconfirmed — The Journal cites its favorite source: "people familiar with the company's plans" — the fancier of the two smartphones sounds kind of awesome. Greg Besinger reports:

One of the devices is a high-end smartphone featuring a screen that allows for three-dimensional images without glasses, these people said. Using retina-tracking technology, images on the smartphone would seem to float above the screen like a hologram and appear three-dimensional at all angles, they said. Users may be able to navigate through content using just their eyes, two of the people said.

It's as if Jeff Bezos told his research and development department to just build a phone with all of the trendiest, craziest features and then figure out how to make it cheap. Those features are trendy and crazy for a reason, by the way. Can you imagine the possibilities of a glasses-free 3D handheld device? That puts smartphones in Star Wars territory, if you can imagine objects floating in the air above the phone like a hologram. What if you could get the phone to beam a 3D representation of your friend into mid-air, like Princess Leia.

Sure it sounds cool, but Amazon's been enabling rumors like this for years now. Nearly two years ago, the Wall Street Journal affiliate AllThingsD reported that an Amazon phone was imminent, as the company sought to compete more directly with Google and Apple. Amazon had already shown prowess in the hardware sector with the success of the Kindle and Kindle Fire and there's long been talk of an Amazon streaming TV box, so a smartphone made sense as a next step. It was a heck of a rumor at a time when iPhone 5 speculation was owning the tech blogs, and Android was systematically gobbling up market share. However well placed, though, it was just a rumor. It wasn't too crazy to assume that Amazon was just giving Apple a taste of its own rumor-mongering medicine.

This latest rumor serves a similar purpose. Regardless of whether its true or not, reports about Amazon developing a 3D screen for mobile devices is a direct affront on Apple's strategy — that is, if Apple's patent history is at all indicative of the company's future plans. In recent years, Apple's been granted a number of patents for 3D technology, including eyeball-tracking, glasses-free displays. We wondered a couple of years ago if Apple would bring these innovations to the new iPad. It didn't, so it's anybody's guess whether or not Apple will make the leap into the third dimension.  

Whether by design or by chance, Apple's competitors have been winning the smartphone feature war lately. Samsung's Galaxy SIV brought the eyeball-tracking technology to market, enabling users to scroll through pages simply by moving their eyes. And if this Amazon 3D smartphone rumor is true, Apple will fall behind in that regard, too. Of course, what makes the Amazon rumor so curious isn't really about how it competes with Apple. It's about how Amazon isn't just a place to buy books any more. It's a technology company with unexpected ambitions, a zany CEO and seemingly limitless resources. Just like the rest of them.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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