Amazon (AMZN 0.37%) may have given up on smartphones, but it isn't quitting hardware.
According to a recent report from The Wall Street Journal [subscription required], Amazon has laid off "dozens of engineers" at Lab126, the business unit behind Amazon's various consumer electronic devices, including the Kindle and its ill-fated Fire Phone.
But the WSJ has also uncovered six different products Amazon may be working on. Although some may never see the light of day, others could eventually play a key role in Amazon's business.
The computer for your kitchen
Of all the devices the Journal uncovered, it was most confident in the existence of a "high-end" kitchen computer. This device could serve as a smart home hub, capable of accepting voice commands and controlling other smart home devices.
Amazon's kitchen computer could be the second-generation Amazon Echo. The smart speaker has been somewhat of a hit. Although Amazon does not disclose exact sales figures, Echo has over 24,000 reviews and is listed as its top seller in home automation controllers. As it stands, the current Echo can accept voice commands and control certain smart home devices, but it could benefit from the inclusion of other features, including a touchscreen.
The kitchen is the central room in many American households, and by pitching a device aimed at the kitchen in particular, Amazon could make a more aggressive play at expanding its Prime Pantry and fledgling grocery delivery businesses.
A way to make better shopping lists
Amazon's engineers have also been working on a stylus, one designed with the sole purpose of creating shopping lists. According to the Journal, this project has been scaled back or outright canceled, but it makes sense in terms of Amazon's broader device strategy.
To date, all of the devices Amazon has released have been intended to drive more commerce. The Kindle, for example, is intended to encourage more book purchases -- the Fire TV, more TV shows and movies. A stylus for shopping lists would likely invite the user to conduct their purchases through Amazon itself. Still, if it's been canceled, it may be for the best -- a stylus with such a narrow purpose sounds unlikely to succeed.
The Fire Projector?
Amazon also may have been working on a projector, though like the stylus, it may have been canceled. This projector could have served as a makeshift display, allowing users to project videos or images in a pinch.
Some companies, including ZTE, have attempted to bring the projector into the modern era. The ZTE SPro triples as a projector, a Wi-Fi hot spot, and an Android tablet, for example. But these devices have not achieved mainstream success.
Another giant tablet
Apple is widely rumored to be working on a larger iPad; Microsoft and Samsung have already released giant tablets of their own. Amazon may join them in the future, perhaps with a 14-inch Kindle Fire tablet.
Amazon's cheap tablets were popular for a time, but demand has fallen significantly. According to IDC's most recent data, Amazon is no longer a top-five tablet vendor. A bigger tablet could help reinvigorate demand, though it may be unlikely. Larger tablets have generally been seen as productivity devices while Amazon's tablets are centered on media consumption.
A Kindle Fire with a 3D display
Amazon likes its 3D displays. The Fire Phone suffered from numerous problems, but it offered one unique and generally praised feature -- a 3D display that didn't require glasses.
According to the Journal, Amazon is working on a tablet that will offer something similar, though with an important nuance. The Fire Phone gives the illusion of depth -- images appear to fall in to the phone's display. The tablet's 3D display, in contrast, will pop out, perhaps resembling a picture book. That could make watching movies or playing games more engaging, and it could give consumers a new reason to purchase its Fire tablets.
A better way to replace physical books
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Amazon is reportedly working on a battery that would allow its Kindle e-readers to last for two full years on a single charge. Amazon has managed to improve the Kindle's battery life since its introduction in 2007 by about threefold -- the original Kindle lasted for about two weeks on a charge, and current Kindles can last about six weeks -- but two full years would represent a dramatic improvement.
Digital books have obviously been successful, but paperbacks and hardcovers remain relevant and desired. A Kindle that can last for two years would come much closer to offering a legitimate alternative to physical books. It would also drive a bigger wedge between dedicated e-readers and standard tablets, and encourage more e-book buyers to stick with Amazon.