By Todd Bernhard on Thu, 04/03/2014
Apple TV has long been a "hobby" for Apple, with perennial rumors of something bigger. However, Google, Roku, and now Amazon have been putting out attractive competitors without waiting for Apple to get serious. The $35 Chromecast from Google brought smart TV features to the masses. Now the $99 Amazon Fire TV offers higher-end features, comparable and even superior to the Apple product.
There's a remote control that certainly looks like the Apple version, but it offers a Siri-inspired twist. Speak into the wireless (line of site NOT required) remote to access the voice search, and request the name of a movie. Leverage the Amazon-owned IMDB (Internet Movie Database) for what Amazon calls "X-Ray" capability. This displays information about the actors and movies you're watching!
Action-based console-style games can be played, using the remote, or with supported traditional controllers. Naturally, movies from Amazon Prime can be viewed for Prime members. Netflix, while an Amazon Prime competitor, is the gold standard and support is included and even gets top billing with the fireTV. Hulu Plus is also supported.
Apple has AirPlay which lets users stream content from an iPad or iPhone and the Amazon Fire TV has a similar feature, for Kindle Fire tablets. Of course Google's Chromecast works similarly. Indeed, the Chromecast requires a smartphone or tablet to generate content which is displayed on the TV. The devices from Apple and Amazon work with smart devices but also operate independently with just a remote.
While Apple users have waited for a smart TV solution with Siri-based voice control and third party apps for console-style gaming, Amazon has gone ahead and delivered. Even if Apple announces a similar Apple TV product, it may be seen as an also-ran. Still, Amazon's device works best with a Kindle Fire tablet and Apple TV works best with an iPad or iPhone, so Amazon's first mover advantage may not have much impact on Apple. Plus, Apple is presumably working on integrating cable TV content which could be a real game changer. If users could have an Apple-designed TV and DVR interface, with Siri voice control, and possibly a la carte channel pricing options, that would be something else!