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I hope Amazon Fire TV will make Apple and Google get serious about TV

Andy Vandervell by

Amazon Fire TV

OPINION: Amazon throws down a challenge

I don’t for a second believe Amazon’s Fire TV is the finished article, but Amazon’s focus and ambition should force Apple and Google to get serious about TV and make TV manufacturers a little nervous.

At first glance there’s nothing especially remarkable about Amazon Fire TV. It’s a small box that connects to your TV, and there’s no shortage of those. We already have Apple TV, Roku has been around for ages and Google has experimented in various ways before settling on the Chromecast ‘stick’. In one movement Amazon is taking aim at numerous rivals, and its clout and knack for marketing products can’t be ignored.

First, Fire TV is more powerful and more versatile (on paper) than any Smart TV or ‘TV’ box. Its Snapdragon 800 processor has enough grunt to produce decent looking games for a large screen TV, while the addition of a dedicated game controller shows Amazon is really serious about Fire TV as a casual gaming platform. Power on its own isn't especially important, but it provides greater freedom and opportunities.

Secondly, Amazon is putting serious investment into content. Like Netflix, it’s already well down the road to becoming a ‘TV studio’ in its own right. Amazon Originals, such as Alpha House (with Jon Goodman), Betas (I'm sensing a theme here...) and The After (from the X-Files creator) are signs of intent, and it's even investing in original children's programming -- a very savvy move.

Amazon isn’t just relying on third-parties for games, either, as the hiring of experienced game designers Kim Swift (famous for Portal and ex-Valve) and Clint Hocking (design lead on Far Cry 2, among others) shows. Quite what these appointments will result in remains to be seen, but backing talent such as this shows Amazon doesn't consider gaming a trivial add-on.

Don’t buy a new TV, buy a $100 box instead

This is the ultimate fear for TV makers. It’s hardly a new one, but Amazon’s move brings it into stark relief and makes the success of 4K TVs all the more important. 3D has largely failed as a selling point for new TVs, which has placed an increasing importance on Smart TV as a way to differentiate between brands.

Indeed, if you’re not too fussed about the nuances of picture quality it could be seen as the way to separate one brand from another. If you fall into this camp, as I think the large majority of normal TV buyers do, the idea of spending £100/$100 or so on a little box as an upgrade is pretty compelling. It’s not a new trend, but Amazon entering the market will make such options more high-profile and more serious.

Your move Apple

Apple, meanwhile, will be under greater scrutiny than ever to make Apple TV a more ambitious product. It’s often joked that Apple TV is a ‘hobby’ for Apple, but that hasn’t been true for a long while now. It’s a nice little earner worth over $1 billion in 2013 according Apple, but Apple hasn’t launched any new hardware in ages, and the software and interface is little more than functional.

Apple TV is overdue a serious overhaul, and Apple will look very silly if it doesn’t happen this year. There’s a reasonable chance Apple has a serious move in its plans, but it can’t afford to wait any longer.

Is Chromecast a serious alternative?

As for Google, Fire TV makes Chromecast look like a slightly geeky, niche product. This is, I freely admit, a gross over simplification. I like Chromecast – it’s simple, elegant and straightforward, and it’s Google’s best TV product after several poor attempts.

For me, it lacks the ‘designed for TV’ feeling in the way Fire TV or Apple TV does. It’s a widget, a dongle... a middle man rather than a dedicated platform for watching and enjoying TV on rather than a potential replacement for your set-top box.

It’s clearly a very effective extension for Android devices that makes them more useful, but in my eyes it's not yet a serious answer to the future of TV. It, or something similar, could become that, but it needs a little work yet.

Amazon has one serious problem…

…it needs to launch it worldwide quickly. Amazon has only launched Fire TV in the US thus far, and it doesn’t have a good record for launching products and services beyond the US quickly. It took a while to get the Kindle going outside the US, it’s only recently unified its ‘Prime’ service in the UK like it has in the US (and annoyed a great many people in the process), and it remains tight lipped on its Fire TV UK release plans.

If I can’t buy a Fire TV before the end of the this year, Amazon will have missed an open goal. If it makes Fire TV global quickly, however, then the world of internet TV is about to get interesting.

I'm hoping it does, because it will force Apple, Google and everyone else to innovate faster and really compete, and hopefully hasten the end of the clunky, pain in the ass PVR.

Next, read our Amazon Fire TV vs Apple TV comparison

Go to comments


April 3, 2014, 1:24 pm

I think this will open the door for people that want nonviolent games on their TV. I don't really see a lot of people buying it right away because many of the games are on their phone. As far as a multimedia device many people already have things that will play Amazon and Netflix. If this was put out a couple of years ago people would have bought it. In order for this to take off I think they need to develop more content that you can't get on other devices that you already own.


April 3, 2014, 2:23 pm

Interesting point, Ken. Perhaps parents will see as a 'safe' and cheap alternative to a games console...

As you say, though, content is the key.


April 3, 2014, 2:59 pm

What I really want is an 'open' platform that is well supported by apps and content that are, or can be, independent of the platform provider.

What I don't want to see is a scenario where each TV box has its own range of 'exclusive' content and the only way to get everything you need is to buy all of them.

Long gone are the days when all you needed was a PC and essentially everything would run on it.


April 3, 2014, 3:29 pm

I guess Roku is the closest to this ideal, and I totally see your point. There is a definite danger that specific channels/studios do deals with Apple or Google to be exclusive, although I don't that would really be in their interests. If you rely on subscribers, you want to be on as many platforms as possible.


April 3, 2014, 4:09 pm

I'm thinking it will be interesting what companies put on in the next few years. Unfortunately I feel many of these technologies are disposable electronics and they haven't found ways of reducing our carbon imprint on the world. It seems like every few years they create a need for a new device. I have great hope someday for streaming because companies can just upgrade their hardware and we can just play.


April 3, 2014, 5:34 pm

Perhaps parents will not, because the parents who are savvy enough to buy one of these, would prefer to have a proper console under their TV for themselves?


April 3, 2014, 6:59 pm

The Chromecast is the future of TV. Full stop. There is no need for a box. Why would you need a box? Just find the show or channel you want and click play on your phone. Easy but powerful. There are still hurdles to be overcome: playback controls could be surfaced better (Android Wear will help with this, along with better lockscreen controls), the speed with which apps launch and play could be improved, the number of apps could be greatly expanded, Google Now could pull up the episode you request by voice, and volume control could be better integrated into your phone. But at the end of the day, anything involving a physical remote is going the way of the Dodo bird.


April 3, 2014, 7:42 pm

I'm impressed by Chromecast. Works superbly well when using an iPad to search for content on Iplayer, YouTube or Netflix etc and then with one flick it's on your tv.

At the moment I think Amazon Instant Prime's content is somewhat lacking. I'm certainly not looking to fork out for individual tv episodes when on the whole I've got more than enough content on Sky. It will be interesting to see what Apple's next move is but like Microsoft it will inevitably be US centric. None of them will come close to matching the BBC, ITV or Channel 4 in that respect.


April 4, 2014, 5:29 am

Very true or they will stream their cellphone game cromecast.


April 4, 2014, 8:04 am

I assume you currently have a Sky box? Do you use any of its on-demand stuff, and would you consider switching to its Now TV service? Looks like Sky is setting that up as 'the future' as people migrate away from its traditional offering.


April 4, 2014, 8:07 am

I'm totally convinced by that. I think Chromecast is a part of the future, but I think the 'mass market' will fiund Chromecast a tougher sell. It's great if you have a high-end phone, but lots of people are still using under powered, hard to use phones and won't upgrade all that often.

It will be interesting to see how it evolves. I wouldn't be surprised if Google came up with something similar to Fire TV, a kind of Chromecast+ if you like to bridge the gap.


April 4, 2014, 8:08 am

Depends on the parents, I suppose. ;)

Prem Desai

April 4, 2014, 8:33 am

Totally agree with this article.

The current media boxes are very much 'work in progress'. I don't think this generation of Fire TV is anything more. However, it's a move in the right direction and will hopefully push everybody else along.

Also agree with the TV comment. No point buying a smart TV - they're all woeful at best.

TV manufacturers should stop wasting resources in developing the half baked smart TVs and focus on TV (picture, sound, design) manufacturing.

I wait eagerly to see what the next generation of Fire TV will bring.

The future of TV is undoubtedly a 'connected' one and hopefully the media player manufacturers will get us there .......


April 4, 2014, 9:32 am

Yes have the full bundle from Sky, movies, fibre broadband, entertainment extra, HD, multiroom, Sky Go. Everything apart from Sky sports.

I justify the expense because I am self employed, work from home and therefore tend to consume more content as I tend to have the TV on in the background whilst I work on the computer or take a break mid afternoon to catch up on something I recorded earlier.

Having said that, I phoned Sky up yesterday and cancelled Sky movies because the vast majority of new movie releases I feel, is a load of dumbed down nonsense and they keep recycling the same old stuff which I've seen before or have no interest in. Perhaps it is because I am getting older I am no longer in their 18-35 target market.

However, I like and use the on demand services from Sky and BBC Iplayer. Personally I think a lot of TV drama, both US and UK, is superior to cinema's offerings. I recently used catch up services to watch the BBC's excellent Line of Duty drama and my guilty pleasure Grimm.

Although people like to criticise Microsoft, they were quick to get all these TV catchup /streaming apps onto the Xbox 360 and saw Sky and others playing catchup. It is interesting to see the large number of people on my friends list using their Xbox's to access Netflix rather than playing games so perhaps their TVTVTV message wasn't too far off the mark.

I also got my sky fibre cost reduced by 50% for 12 months, so £10 rather than £20 just by asking.

Netflix have given me another free trial (House Of Cards season 2 thank you very much) and like everyone else I've been upgraded from Amazon Prime to their Amazon Instant Prime service which I'm not overly impressed. Very poor in terms of free content compared to Netflix. Also have been mucked around royally by Amazon in trying to get a free trial of their Lovefilm by post service set up and am unlikely to renew Amazon Prime unless the free content improves massively.

I have no intention of buying overpriced individual TV episodes from Amazon or Movies on demand from Sky which is what both companies appear to be desperate to push. This means I'm unlikely to sign up for Now TV as not really interested in paying for Sport on demand or movies. Although it is gives you access to BBC iplayer and other free catch up services for just a tenner it could be handy for a spare bedroom TV but then again Chromecast does this and as I mentioned elsewhere you can search for content far easier using an ipad than trying to input characters using a TV Remote or game controller.


April 4, 2014, 1:42 pm

I'm looking forward to a Nexus TV or for Google to start letting other manufacturers make Google Cast devices. It's great that they've created a a low cost option, but I'd be willing to pay more for ethernet and a faster processor.

I bought my mom a Chromecast. She already had a Roku. Now she only uses the Chromecast (for Netflix). This is because she likes using the apps on her phone. She's addicted to Candy Crush. The Roku is another device she has to remember how to navigate, while the Chromecast only requires she remember to tap the Chromecast button in the app. My dad refuses to try the Chromecast on principle, but he's stubborn as hell.

Basically, if you know how to use your phone, you know how to use the Chromecast. And everyone is becoming very good at using their phones. I don't think the barriers are as high as you might think. And the importance of the low price cannot be overstated.


April 4, 2014, 2:06 pm

Interesting to hear. Guess we'll see who wins out.

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