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North American sales of Samsung’s long-awaited Galaxy S5 phone began on April 11, and pundits muttered that carriers were nervous about how the phone would sell. As it turns out, either the worries were overblown or the pundits were smoking funny cigarettes.

Four days after North American sales commenced, a Samsung spokesperson said GS5 orders “were already in the millions,” and that first-day sales were double that of of the GS4, the GS5′s prececessor that had its debut last year. The GS5 has sold out in many countries following its launch in 125 other countries on April 14, reported ZDNet Korea. The website went on to report that the GS5 is outselling the GS4 by a factor of 1.3 overall, and has double the sales of its predecessor in the UK and parts of Europe.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about Ray Soneira’s test results on the GS5′s display. I can now report that the GS5′s real-world performance is entirely consistent with the results of Soneira’s exhaustive testing. In particular, the screen is easily readable in bright sunlight. Or, to be pricise, in sunlight that is as bright as sunlight gets in southern New England in mid-April. It really makes a difference when you don’t have to hide under a picnic table to work out of doors.

Amazon entices. The Wall Street Journal’s Greg Bensinger and Evelyn Rusli reported on April 11 that Amazon will announce a “3D”smartphone in June for release in Q3. ”

Amazon's maybe-3D smartphone was shown with the case concealed with a shroud.  (Photo:  BGR)

Amazon’s maybe-3D smartphone was shown with the case concealed with a shroud. (Photo: BGR)

[Amazon] has been demonstrating versions of the handset to developers in San Francisco and its hometown Seattle in recent weeks,” sources briefed on the company’s plans told Bensigner and Rusli. The sources said the handset would use four front-facing cameras to perform eye-tracking and deliver autostereoscopic 3D (stereo 3D without glasses). Display people were immediately suspicious of this assertion because four cameras are not necessary for eye-tracking. Indeed, another source said the four cameras will be used to determine the distance of the user’s face from the phone, and perform zooming functions in response. Without more information, this explanation is not satisfying either.

According to Bensinger and Rusli, Amazon told one of its suppliers it plans to begin volume production of the phone late in April, with an initial order of 600,000 units. One of the two display makers who will provide panels for the phone is Japan Display Inc., which also makes displays for the iPhone 5C and 5S, according to a “person familiar with the details.”

There has been considerable discussion about why Amazon would want to get into the hyper-competitive smartphone market. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has said that the company’s devices don’t have to make a profit if they further the company’s goals of selling more media. Analysts have added that an Amazon smartphones could also funnel more information about users to the company, creating a richer picture of users’ commercial and geographic lives.

Amazon has demonstrated its ability to make world-class devices. Its recent Kindle Fire HDX tablets and its very recent Amazon Fire TV streaming media player are excellent offerings in their segments. Based on this history, the forthcoming product — shall we call it the “FireFone?” — is likely to have excellent specs, ergonomics, user interface, and industrial design — and be an efficient front end for ordering even more stuff from Amazon. But can it shoulder Apple and Android apart sufficiently to get some breathing room?

That’s where the 3D comes in, if it is 3D. If the feature is well implemented, it could differentiate the phone and be a compelling enabler for key applications. What applications? Let’s try gaming. Smartphone users spend more of their time playing games than on any other application category. And Amazon understands the importance of games. The company is pitching the Fire TV as a game platform as much as a streaming media platform. That’s not to say that 3D has yet established itself as an essential gaming feature, but can be more effective on small screens than on large ones. So there is at least a chance that Amazon will find gold in them thar 3D hills. I look forward to seeing what the “3D” phone does and how well it does it — and whether it’s really 3D.

Ken Werner is Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, specializing in the display industry, manufacturing, technology, and applications.  He consults for attorneys, investment analysts, and companies entering or repositioning themselves in industries related to displays and the products that use them.  You can reach him at kwerner@nutmegconsultants.com.

Posted by Ken Werner, April 19, 2014 8:04 AM

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About Ken Werner

Kenneth I. Werner is the founder and Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, which specializes in the display industry, display technology, display manufacturing, and display applications. He serves as Marketing Consultant for Tannas Electronic Displays (Orange, California) and Senior Analyst for Insight Media. He is a founding co-editor of and regular contributor to Display Daily, and is a regular contributor to HDTVexpert.com and HDTV Magazine. He was the Editor of Information Display Magazine from 1987 to 2005.