The game of one-upsmanship is what all the big technology companies play these days. Here’s how it works. Apple introduces a new product which combines existing technologies in a new and attractive way (Mac, iPod, iTunes, App Store, iPhone, iPad, etc.). The technorati elite skewer Apple’s new toy as too little, too late, too expensive, too underpowered.
Customers buy Apple’s new toys by the tens of millions, disrupting a few industries along the way. Then, competitors introduce similar products with mildly different specifications and capabilities packaged in a device which looks and works similar to Apple’s products, but at a lower price point.
Enter Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos with his company’s answer to Apple TV (which quietly became a billion-dollar industry last year).
It’s called Fire TV, a flat $99 box that’s the latest answer to Apple’s Apple TV business. Hardware wise Fire is merely an advanced version of Apple TV with the usual and necessary accouterments tech companies need to compete against Apple.
Fire TV doesn’t have the rounded corner esthetics of Apple TV. The device is larger, comes with a remote control (with a built-in microphone for voice control; a nice touch), an HDMI port, optical audio, and connectors for Ethernet and USB. That’s not much different than the overall design Apple TV which has been around a few years.
Inside Fire, Amazon claims powerful hardware– 2GB RAM, quad-core CPU, dedicated GPU, Wi-Fi, Dolby Digital Plus Surround Sound, 1080p HD video streaming– which, ostensibly, will make content load faster and run smoother, though neither has been much of an issue with my Apple TV.
The key to Fire TV isn’t so much the hardware and Amazon’s shameless copying of Apple’s form factor should indicate that Apple got it right– it’s the software.
Let the latest round of one-upmanship begin.
If Content is King then Fire TV wants to jump far enough ahead of Apple TV that Apple looks like it’s playing catch up.
For instance, Fire TV comes with a 30-day trial of Netflix and Amazon Prime. From then on it’s a who’s who list of streaming services– Amazon MP3, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Hulu Plus, WatchESPN, YouTube and hundreds of thousands of TV shows and movies for rent or purchase.
Wait. There’s more.
Amazon is throwing it’s considerable weight behind Fire TV in an effort to catch up to a market grown to non-hobby status by Apple TV. That means Amazon content– music, movies, TV shows, videos, and something the Apple TV does not have– games.
Well, actually Apple TV has games and probably half a million or so, many of which stream wonderfully through Apple TV to your television via AirPlay.
Fire TV also includes access to Amazon’s Cloud Drive to store photos and videos which can be streamed to your TV through the device. The built-in ASAP technology, Advanced Streaming and Prediction will help to reduce the five or 10 second lag between pressing Play and watching streaming media.
Amazon’s answer to AirPlay is called Second Screen which plays media from smartphone or tablet to Fire TV and your television. Whispersync syncs video and music across all your devices so you can start watching or listening on one and pick up on another.
For now, Fire TV is compelling, with updated hardware, and a long list of content and promotion options which will look more impressive when compared to Apple TV, a form factor which hasn’t seen much love from Apple since 2010.
What’s interesting about Fire TV isn’t that the hardware trumps Apple (tech competitors play one-upmanship on hardware all the time), or comes with a lengthy list of content to match or exceed Apple TV.
Where’s the future? Where’s the next big thing in TV? One could easily argue that Fire TV is merely an updated Apple TV (which itself hasn’t been updated in a few years) so Amazon can take advantage of a billion dollar industry grown to fledgling maturity by Apple.