Those of us who have been waiting for an Amazon Prime channel to finally show up on their Apple TV now have an explanation as to why it never arrived. Today Amazon introduced FireTV (US $99), an Amazon set-top box that seems perfectly situated to compete with Apple TV. Amazon cited a 350% growth in their video streaming service as their basis for entering this market.
With a quad-core processor, a dedicated GPU, and 2GB of onboard RAM, the new unit's specifications compare extremely favorably against both Apple's latest unit as well as Roku. Standout features include enhanced "MIMO dual-band WiFi", a slick user interface, built-in Karaoke, and voice search.
The box is about the same form factor as an Apple TV, with a small but much more solid-looking remote. The unit will offer many of the same channels, or "apps" in the Amazon parlance. These include Netflix, Hulu Plus, WatchESPN, SHO Anytime, Bloomberg, and Vevo. Streaming music services including Pandora and iHeart Radio should follow soon after launch.
A feature called "X-Ray" will provide additional details about what you're watching as you watch it. This extra information is delivered to your Kindle Fire HDX tablet for tight product-line integration. There's also some sort of AirPlay equivalent on offer for watching slideshows of your tablet- and cloud-based photo collections.
Apple has to be taking notice of Amazon's latest move. From the Kindle to the TV, Amazon is striding boldly into an arena of consumer content that Apple first pioneered with iTunes and Apple TV. If anyone can transform content delivery from a hobby to a business, Amazon can.
FireTV's easier interaction style and spoken commands (yes, I struggle with entering text on Apple TV -- especially when I have to re-enter my WiFi network password) should set a new bar for streaming set top. Apparently there's even a mic built into the remote. I found the interface screenshots to be cleaner than the somewhat confusing menu system I currently see on my Apple TV unit.They're full of bright clear images that feel like a well thought out, navigable system -- and probably a bit of a WiFi hog.
So how will Apple react? Certainly that $99 price point for Apple TV has got to give or the Apple unit needs a major refresh. If Apple intends to stay in this "hobby", I would expect an interface overhaul and perhaps some Siri support to stay competitive. I also would think they'd need to open a third party SDK, the way that Amazon will with its open HTML and Android ecosystem. At launch, you'll be able to download and play Minecraft, The Walking Dead, Monsters University, the Amazon exclusive Sev Zero -- all on your TV.