What's Really Going on With These Amazon and Google Gadget 'Experiments'?

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Photo: Eric Limer (Gizmodo)

This glorious Monday comes with two interesting tidbits for gadget lovers. First off, Amazon reportedly hasn’t ruled out launching another smartphone despite the debacle of its first attempt, the Fire Phone. Second, a CNET interview with Google’s Pixel team lead Mario Queiroz reveals the company is experimenting with foldable phones. Exciting, right?

Is Amazon actually launching a Fire Phone 2.0? Will we see a foldable Pixel phone to rival the Samsung Galaxy Fold? Ehhhh. Tech executives talk a lot, and it’s worth taking the extra second to squint at what they’re saying before diving headfirst into hype.

The whole Amazon smartphone rumors come from a nebulous comment from David Limp, Amazon’s senior vice president of devices and services. “It’s a big market segment and it would be interesting. We need to keep experimenting and the things we want to experiment with are the ones that are truly differentiated,” Limp told The Telegraph. He continued: “The answer is the same as to whether we’re going to build a personal computer. What we need to do in order to enter into something new is we have to have an idea to differentiate it.”


That’s a whole lot of nothing. If you Google Translated corporate business speak, it’s Limp saying “Well, I’m not saying yes, but I’m also not saying no. A successful Amazon smartphone would make a boatload of money, sure, but uh, we’d need to do something different, and I’m either not sure or playing extremely dumb as to what that ‘something different’ is.”

Likewise, Google’s Queiroz told CNET, “We’re definitely prototyping the technology [foldable screens]. We’ve been doing it for a long time. I don’t think there’s a clear use case yet.”


That statement doesn’t even need much parsing. Google admitting prototypes exist makes sense—after all, have you seen the multitude of Google patents? Vendors like Samsung and Huawei have already shown the world they see foldable phones as the next wave of smartphone innovation. Google, with all its R&D money, would be foolish not to have prototypes to at the very least, test out how its Android operating system would work. In fact, Google outright said it was committed to delivering foldable phone support in Android Q at its I/O developer conference last week. That doesn’t mean, however, those prototypes are evidence of a Pixel-branded foldable phone. If you read the CNET interview in its entirety, Queiroz reiterates that Google has no plan to go to market with a foldable phone at the moment. “We’re prototyping foldable displays and many other new hardware technologies,” Queiroz says before adding, “and have no related product announcements to make at this time.”

Giant tech companies, particularly those with hardware, are always experimenting with new features and products—some of which are doomed to live as goofy patents that never really see the light of day. Is it cool that Google is aware of the foldable phone trend and keeping up with the times? Kinda. It’d be more surprising if it weren’t. 


Similarly, the idea that Amazon is going full speed ahead at a second iteration of the Fire Phone is speculation at best. One of the main reasons why industry analysts are even entertaining the existence of a Fire phone 2.0 is this semi-cryptic statement in an Amazon earnings release from last summer: “We want customers to be able to use Alexa wherever they are.” You can almost see the cogs turning of “Alexa” + “wherever they are” = smartphone 2.0.

That could easily mean something like an Alexa for every room, or even one built into a toilet. Or, something as simple as “We’re doubling down on expanding Alexa because it’s one of our most successful products.” Is it likely that Amazon is working on new experimental ways of inflicting Alexa on all of us? You betcha. Is it in the form of a smartphone? Possibly—but at this point, it’s just whispers.


Speculation is part of what makes following gadget news fun, and new product launches exciting. There’s also a fine line between speculation and unearned hype. I’d be stoked to see a Fire phone 2.0 and a foldable Pixel—but I’ll also believe it when I see more than corporate business babble to back it up.