Mobile Mavens

To 3D or not to 3D: Amazon's Fire phone struggles to ignite developers

Our experts give their take

To 3D or not to 3D: Amazon's Fire phone struggles to ignite developers

Earlier this month Amazon unveiled its first smartphone, called Fire.

Fire uses four front-facing infra-red cameras which track a user’s head orientation and generate an on-screen 3D effect.

"While this might be something of a gimmick, Amazon hopes that as well as obvious applications like mapping and viewing retail items, this 3D effect - which Amazon calls the Dynamic Perspective - will also be a general benefit in terms of all aspects of the user interface including basic menus," editor-at-large Jon Jordan explained at the time.

So, we asked out Mavens:

From a developer perspective, is 3D on Fire a gimmick? Or is this a feature that excites?


Harry Holmwood CEO Marvelous Europe

A games programmer before joining Sony’s early PlayStation team in 1994, he then founded developer Pure Entertainment, which IPO’d and launched a free-to-play online gaming service way back in 1999.

He was also a director of pioneering motion gaming startup In2Games, which was sold to a US group in 2008.

Along the way, he’s been a corporate VP, troubleshooter, and non-exec to a variety of companies and investors in and around the games sector.

Harry was European CEO of Marvelous AQL, a Japanese developer and publisher of social, mobile and console games, known for console games like No More Heroes and Harvest Moon, but now highly successful in the free-to-play mobile and web space in Japan and Asia.

Harry is CEO of Magicave.

You can do some really cool stuff with head tracking to generate a 3D perspective effect (remember the great work done by Jonny Lee with a reversed WiiMote a few years ago) but I'm less convinced that there's benefit to general UI and menus there.

I'm speaking from a position of total ignorance though, having never seen a Fire phone or its UI. I'd love to be wrong.

Christopher Kassulke CEO HandyGames

We have an awesome game that was showed at the Fire's launch event that uses Dynamic Perspective. Stage Dive Legends can be played and navigated purely with your head.

So, game developers can produce unique and innovative titles. I am very excited as this is a new feature for games. There are only few companies which can bring such technology to mass market and Amazon is one of them. The Amazon Fire Phone has also other great features that game developers can use including the amazing Firefly or the Dolby Sound – it's all a step into the right direction.

Vladimir Funtikov Co-Founder Creative Mobile

I wouldn't go as far as saying that showcasing new tech is the only way to innovate, but I agree that this feature is pretty cool, and tracking is accurate enough to be useful - we had a chance to play around with the device before official launch as well.

You don't necessarily have to build your game around it - even adding some camera motion to an otherwise static 3D scene can make a difference. It won't make a mediocre game great, but it's a nice touch.

We've already used gyro/accelerometer for that purpose, and head tracking is another natural way to do it.

Will Luton Founder/CPO Village Studio Games Village Studio

I move about a lot on my phone and I don't know how it'll handle that.
Will Luton

Going only from the video, a lot of the effects could be done with gyroscopes before.

The fact it has not been done widely in apps - and when it had was mostly incidental - suggests there is no real usability benefit. Like Harry, would love to be wrong, but I'm very sceptical.

I'm also sceptical about tilt to scroll as when I'm using my phone I move about a lot and I don't know how it'll handle that. For example, I started this email in the kitchen – I'm finishing it sat on the toilet.

Oscar Clark Chief Strategy Officer Fundamentally Games

Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.

Personally, I like 3D stereoscopic display experiences, but I feel like I'm in the minority by the way it's usually reported.

This kind of tech launch seems a little bit '2012' given that even Sony didnt prioritise 3D Bluray support with its PS4 launch. I still use my PS3 to watch mine disks – yes, I buy 3D Bluray movies.

Amazon Fire

I genuinely feel Assassins Creed 3, Uncharted 3 and Killzone 3 were all significantly l enhanced when played with a 3D TV. They felt somehow more substantial. Sadly, however, I'm not sure if this launch fires me up...

It's probably 3D fatigue that puts me off, and a fear of the battery impact from those multiple IR cameras.

However, I am interested to know if these are going to be available for other features? Could these be used to deliver new input methods to change the way we play games or interact with GUI differently? Perhaps there might be something interesting come out of it; but unless it's amazing and fully backed by developers i suspect it will be a bit of a dead end.


Adam Green Managing Director / Owner Assyria Game Studios

Adam is an indie developer who works on own-IP and work-for-hire, both inside and outside the games industry. He formerly ran iOS promotion service Daily App Dream, before going on to sell the business in November 2012.

For me I think it's interesting technology, but realistically most developers deploy their applications on a range of mobile platforms.

As developers, most of us will be willing to switch in and out basic achievement, leaderboard and in-app-purchase systems as necessary during porting. However, I think that is a very different proposition to developing content for a technology that would potentially only work on this single platform.

In order for that to be viable for us as developers, the Fire phone would need to gain considerable traction in what is already a quite crowded market of devices; and I question if that is attainable.

Julia Lebedeva Business Development Director Nevosoft

Julia joined Nevosoft as a public relations manager in 2009 and took a fresh look on interacting with the casual games audience. She has a master’s degree in linguistics and more than three years of experience in the entertainment industry, working as a morning show hostess and as the program director at a radio station. Her current role at Nevosoft sees her responsible for the company’s B2B connections and for searching out new ways of growing the business.

Dynamic Perspective looks amazing from a customer point of view - it's something like watching 3D without 3D glasses and with an opportunity to interact with the world behind smartphone screens. I’d say as a user I would definitely like to try it.

Amazon's Appstore is good, but it’s far behind Apple's App Store and Google Play.
Julia Lebedeva

Just imagine, to find something on the screen you will have to move your head or your phone - it’s very cool. But can this feature change mobile gaming? I don't think so.

First, if we look back, we will see, that 3D movies didn't change the movie industry. Though it increased movie budgets, movies still tell the same stories. On the same note, the Nintendo 3DS didn't change the portable games industry at all. Moreover, the next Nintento portable device - Nintendo 2DS – came out without 3D.

Market history tells us even though 3D helps to sell products and brings a more exciting experience, it doesn’t change the way of how people watch films or play games.

Secondly, at this time it’s only Fire Phone that supports the parallax on such level. If a developer decides to integrate this function to the game, it will only be the version for Amazon's Appstore. This market is good, but it’s far behind Apple's App Store and Google Play.

John Ozimek Co-founder Big Games Machine

John is co-founder of PR and marketing company Big Ideas Machine. Also an all-round nice guy...

I have to agree with the consensus so far that, whilst interesting, this is technology in search of a purpose.

I absolutely salute Christopher and the HandyGames team for creating a great game for the launch, but we see time and time again that there needs to be a large addressable - and free spending - audience in place before it makes sense for most developers to shift focus away from the mass-market of Android and/or iPhone.

I remember far back in 2002 when I was working as part of ARM’s PR team there was a lot of excitement about the potential for 3D UIs, but this went nowhere. Why? Probably because it’s easier to just use a flat UI - the 3D doesn’t intrinsically add value or make the UI simpler (which is what you really want a phone UI to be).

I also read recently that even Toshiba, which has invested heavily in 3D R&D, had dismissed 3D on mobile as infeasible due to cost and battery drain. So as long as it’s only the Amazon phone using it, it will certainly remain a gimmick.

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.