Peek and tilt: the gestures that will control the Amazon Fire Phone

Amazon.com's first smartphone, the Fire Phone, is displayed during a demonstration at the company's Fire Phone launch event on June 18, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. The much-anticipated device is available for pre-order today and is available exclusively with AT&T service.  (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

Amazon’s Fire Phone doesn’t come out until later this month, but the company’s already working to make sure there will soon be more than 40 apps optimized for the Amazon’s new 3D(-ish) Dynamic Perspective interface. On Monday, a post appeared on Amazon’s developer blog that outlines the best practices for developing apps for the Fire Phone, and specifically, using Amazon’s Dynamic Perspective SDK.

Although Amazon’s face-tracking, infrared-camera-powered interface has been called a gimmick — despite the phone not yet being commercially available — the company does seem quite serious about using its gestures to get around the Fire OS. Last week, Amazon offered up to $5000 in Amazon Coins for apps that take advantage of the Fire Phone’s unique hardware.

There are two primary gestures that Amazon is introducing: peek and tilt. Both gestures are activated by rotating the phone around its Y-axis, but to different degrees.

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A “subtle” rotation around the Y-axis will bring up a peek. Described as analogous to “mouse-overs on desktop computers,” the peek gesture is a low-weight interaction. The example Amazon provides is unhiding the top status bar — which contains icons summarizing battery life, network connection and the time. Perhaps Peek could be used as an easy way to bring up help information about which gestures to use on a given screen.

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The tilt gesture also uses the Y-axis, but it requires a deeper movement than peek. Tilting the phone deeply to the right pulls up the app’s left panel, which preferably should be used for major menus and navigation and should be consistent no matter where the user is currently in the app. Tilting the phone to the other side brings up the right panel, which is more contextual; Amazon offers an example of a bookmarks menu in a maps app or lyrics inside the Amazon Music app. It appears that the tilt gesture will be the primary way users bring up menus on a Fire optimized app.

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In addition to the traditional grid of square icons, Amazon is also introducing a way to page through installed apps which requires a two-part visual representation: apps on the Fire Phone “carousel” need both a large icon and a widget that goes below which shows content without opening the app, similar to Window Phone’s live tiles. If developers don’t include a widget, in true Amazon fashion, the Fire Phone will display a “customers also bought” widget. Conceivably, customers could also be buying those apps’ main competitor, which would give developers quite the incentive to add widgets to their Android apps for the Amazon Appstore.

Although the blog post promises “three main gestures the user will come to rely on,” the only two gestures mentioned focus primarily on the Y-axis (peek and tilt.) Based on one of the images included in the post, the third gesture is called “swivel,” and it is activated by twisting a Fire Phone around the Z-axis. The blog post doesn’t explain or mention that gesture, except in the image, which makes me think it was a last minute cut from the post, and we’ll learn more about what it does later.

Even with only two confirmed actions, Fire OS seems to require gestures to a level no other mobile device has to this point: to bring up option menus will require a tilt, not a tap. There are still a few unanswered questions — where is the Y axis? Does it go through the phone or is it behind the phone? Also, if the peek and tilt actions aren’t clearly delineated, I could see first-time users being immensely frustrated.

Still, it’s good to see Amazon enabling its Dynamic Perspective technology to do a bit more than serve pretty lock screens. Apps submitted by July 18 will be available when the Fire Phone will start shipping on July 25.

 

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