Amazon’s Fire TV Makes it Clear: It’s Time for a New Apple TV

| Analysis

All the details about Amazon's new Fire TV set top box are out, it looks like the company is packing a lot into its US$99 device. It ramps up the competition for Apple and Roku, and based on price, leaves Apple TV somewhat lacking.

Fire TV give Apple TV a run for its moneyFire TV give Apple TV a run for its money

Amazon packed a quad-core processor, and dedicated graphics engine into its Fire TV. It supports 1080p video and Dolby Digital Plus Surround Sound, includes 2GB RAM, dual-band Wi-Fi, and comes with a remote that supports voice commands. In comparison, Apple TV offers only 512MB RAM, and voice control isn't an option.

Fire TV's voice control feature is described like this:

Gone are the days of searching for a movie or TV show by left-left-down-right-ing through an on-screen alphabet grid using your remote. Simply speak the name of a movie, TV show, actor, director, genre, app, or game into the remote, and the results will appear instantly. Voice search leverages the search data and expertise of Amazon.com and IMDb, and is optimized to understand Amazon's video, app, and game catalog.

Fire TV predicts which shows you want to watch and preloads them to cut down on buffering wait time, and offers second screen support, meaning you can use your Kindle tablet to get additional information and behind the scenes info on the shows and movies you're watching. It includes built-in Hulu Plus, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Instant Video, Amazon MP3, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn support, and even Plex, too. Apple TV is on board will the same services, but doesn't offer Amazon Instant Video or Plex support.

Amazon's set top box also support gaming with titles such as Minecraft, The Walking Dead, Despicable Me: Minion Rush, Asphalt 8, and more available now. You can control games via the Fire TV remote, a companion app for smartphones and tablets, or Amazon's own Fire game controller accessory. Apple TV? Gaming support isn't even an option.

According to Amazon, over 200,000 movies and TV shows are available for Fire TV today, plus the device includes built-in parental controls. That's inline with Apple TV, but doesn't seem like much of a consolation considering the other features packed into Fire TV.

All of Amazon's own content is available through your Amazon Prime subscription, which costs US$99 a year, and  FreeTime Unlimited kid-specific content starts at $2.99 a month. FreeTime, not to be confused with FreeTime Unlimited, is Fire TV's parental control feature that lets you set up profiles for each child, control when and how long they watch TV, what shows they can watch, and includes what Amazon calls a "kid friendly" interface. Apple TV does offer parental controls, but not on the same scale as Fire TV.

At $99, the same price as Apple TV, Fire TV is a pretty compelling competitor in the set top streaming device market. While Apple TV is still a great device, as of today its true distinguishing factor is that it supports Apple's iTunes Store and iTunes Radio. Everything else it offers, and more, is available in Fire TV for the same price. Looks like it's time for a big Apple TV update.

Fire TV looks like a very compelling purchase option. The ball is in your court, Apple.

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Comments

YodaMac

You seem to be making a big deal about Amazon having its own “store” available on its device, and practically dismissing that Apple has it’s own store (iTunes) on the Apple TV.  You expect them to carry each other’s stores?  Because I don’t think that’s likely.

Besides the gaming add-on (which I’m not sure I like the sound of how its being implemented), the Apple TV has everything Amazon’s device has.  I’m guessing the tech specs of the next gen Apple TV (the current model is how many years old now) will certainly be more in line with Amazon’s brand new device, so I wouldn’t worry about that either.

wab95

YodaMac:

I think that Jeff’s point (not that he needs me to make his point) is that, as a debut device, FireTV is making a grand entrance. Granted, it is the beneficiary of the work of other companies that have gone before, and the price reduction for processors and memory, but it is a compelling package that, unlike the Kindle Fire when it debuted, is beyond the prototype phase. It is a mature, finished and competitive product. And while is it is unlikely to pull many Apple customers away from their ATV, it is compelling enough to staunch to flow of Amazon customers to the Apple ecosystem, which qualifies as job done.

Voice control and games are a sufficient ‘cool’ factor to bring in the uncommitted youth with some disposable income.

I think that this will garner more buzz than did Chrome TV, and given Amazon’s customer base, could give Apple a run for their money on units sold.

You are right of course, Apple will come out with something competitive on their next iteration; only now, they have incentive to make it more competitive still.

FlipFriddle

Something tells me TV manufacturers are going to have start making it more common to have three or more HDMI inputs.

dtm1

Hard to understand Apple being so slow in updates. Is it Cook or just the Apple way? The Apple way being circa the ‘90’s? Apple has to know the competitors doings to a certain degree. It’s going to be hard for Apple to rely on “the next big thing” in this day and age.

And I’m an Apple devotee.

Rocwurst

Dealbreaker for FireTV - no Airplay.

Jamie

That’s the thing - they’ve had Airplay, they’ve had all of the pieces to do this for awhile - I’m really surprised the ATV hasn’t been refreshed. I can only guess that there is something in the cooker (um . . . no pun intended) and it’ll feature a lot of this stuff. One would hope, anyway.

d'monder

dtm1,
“Hard to understand Apple being so slow in updates.”

Reminds me of a discussion I had in the pre-Steve 1990’s, when Apple was mired in System 7.x and Copland, and Windows 95 was arriving like a hurricane.

I argued passionately, “This is not good, Apple HAS to get a modern OS to market to answer W95!”.  The community’s response?  “We have the best product no matter what anyone does.  Apple’s clock doesn’t run on Microsoft’s time”.

Looking back, oh the hubris.  The market doesn’t wait for anyone.  This should be a very clear wake-up call that it’s time to get serious with AppleTV, or move on.

Paul Goodwin

I love Apple products, but I have to say, my Roku 2 XS is a pretty sweet device. For streaming video it’s hard to beat. The simplest remote ever, simple menus and that model has Ethernet for full bandwidth. 1000 channels - not that I use more than a handful. But it has Netflix, Amazon Instant (with free Prime), and Acorn, giving a lot of video to choose from at very low prices. I liked it enough to buy a second one for the bedroom. Maybe down the road I might consider this Amazon player when the Rokus have run their course.

ibuck

According to MacRumours, the AppleTV, Mac Mini, and the MacBook Pro have not been updated since 2012. Is the delay due to some developing technology? Or has Apple committed the engineers working on these to other projects? As I want to purchase an ATV and a Mini, I hope they rev these products very soon.

Lee Dronick

I can use Siri, in a limited way, with my Apple TV and the Remote App on my iPhone. Instead of typing into a search box I can have Siri do it. I suppose that Siri can be updated to have more control over the device. Maybe even have the supplied remote include a microphone.

Another improvement, I want the Apple TV to be able to launch iTunes on my iMac.

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