Last week, Amazon (AMZN) announced Amazon Fire TV, its own set-top box, which will compete against the likes of Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG) and Roku in an increasingly crowded market. At first glance, it looks like more of the same that's already out there, but Amazon is working hard to make sure it captures this market, like it's done with so many other markets before.
Peter Larsen, Amazon vice president of Kindle showed off the device in New York (an event I attended), and said that Amazon is now working on delivering premium hardware and a premium experience, for a value price.
This is a marked change from Amazon's original hardware strategy, which was simply to push more content to you, and not care about computing power or aesthetics. That's changed with Fire TV, though it's still not as aesthetically pleasing as the Apple TV. The 0.7"-thin device is silent even when running the most demanding applications, a testament to the quad-core processor inside, which helps make the Fire TV three times more powerful than what's already out there, Larsen noted.
The device sells for $99; by contrast, Apple TV also costs $99, Google's Chromecast runs $35, and Roku has a number of options, starting at $49.99, running up to $99.99, for the latest Roku 3.
In addition to the quad-core processor, it has a dedicated GPU, 2GB of RAM, dual band, as well as dual Wi-Fi with Mimo. This is perhaps the most important feature, as it will help stop buffering, a problem many (including myself) have had with other set-top box devices, including Apple TV.
Right now, Amazon Fire TV has the usual array of channels, including Hulu Plus, Netflix, Showtime, Bloomberg TV, WatchESPN, and of course Amazon Prime's Instant Video. It doesn't have HBO Go at first, though Larsen kept stressing the point it's not a closed ecosystem, making it likely HBO Go will come down the line. It should be noted that the Fire TV runs a customized-version of Google's Android operating system, like the Kindle Fire tablets, which does have access to HBO Go. It also does not have a native YouTube app, but users can still access YouTube on the platform.
Meanwhile, Apple is working constantly to add new channels all the time, and has all the aforementioned channels, except for Prime Instant Video. Though people think of Apple as a closed ecosystem, by working with more and more media partners, this suggests anything but.
In addition to a variety of streaming content, Fire TV brings photos, music, and games to the living room. It also incorporates voice search using the remote as a microphone, so that customers no longer have to type into the box, as they do with Roku or Apple TV.
Amazon is trying to improve on what's already out there, and by a large extent, they have. The Fire TV's ASAP feature predicts the shows you'll want to watch next, and queues them up for you.
Perhaps the biggest added feature is the gaming portion, as Amazon seeks to take a chunk out of the lucrative gaming market. Though the Fire TV won't directly compete with the Xbox One or the PlayStation 4, its low-priced games (average selling price of $1.85) may make people think twice about purchasing other set-top boxes.
Despite all of that, it's going to take a lot to compete with Apple. During the presentation, Larsen kept using his iPhone to make points, and consumers traditionally have liked their devices to work with each other seamlessly.
Though FireTV can work with an iPhone, it doesn't have Apple's brand cache or ecosystem behind it. Given that Apple TV sold over $1 billion in units last year, according to Apple CEO Tim Cook, Amazon certainly has its work cut out for it in this market.