Amazon might have a phone in the pipeline

After gaining a firm foothold in tablets and e-readers with its Kindle product family, Amazon may now have its sights set on the smartphone market. At least, there's plenty of evidence to suggest that, in the not-too-distant future, Amazon will unveil some type of handset.

Bloomberg was first to break the news last week. It said Amazon was working with Foxconn on an upcoming phone, and it added that the e-tail giant had acquired wireless patents to "help it defend against allegations of infringement." (Given the fierce patent infringement lawsuits going on between Apple and other handset makers, I guess that's probably wise.)

The Wall Street Journal chimed in yesterday with word from its sources that Amazon is, indeed, "working with component suppliers in Asia to test a smartphone." The Journal noted that the Amazon phone has a 4- or 5-inch display, and it said production of the device could kick off either late this year or early in 2013.

Now, blogs are linking to a Windows Gadget News story, which reveals that a former Windows Phone executive has defected and joined Amazon. Robert Williams used to be Senior Director of Business Development for Premium Mobile Experiences at Microsoft, but his LinkedIn profile now lists his employer as Amazon. His latest Twitter post also says, "At work (Checked in at Inc)." According to Windows Gadget News, Williams was "responsible for the depth of the applications that are available on Windows Phone."

An affordable smartphone could help Amazon's online content business by spurring music sales—after all, a pocket-sized device is much better for listening to music on the go than even a 7" tablet. I wonder what kind of software the device will run, though. Bloomberg said last week that the Amazon phone would "vie with" the iPhone and "handheld devices that run Google Inc. (GOOG)’s Android operating system," which suggests the device might not run a plain version of Android. Perhaps, like the Kindle Fire, the device will simply feature a heavily modified version of Google's OS.

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