October 04, 2013, 6:00 AM —
I can't help but feel like we already have a nice variety of 'set-top boxes' for streaming content. There's the Roku, Apple TV and there're Google TV devices from several vendors. Add to that the various smart TVs and gaming consoles that duplicate a lot of set-top box functionality, obviating the need for a stand alone device.
But at least according to The Wall Street Journal, Amazon disagrees with me and thinks there's room for one more set-top box. One that comes from Amazon. The Journal reports that we might see an Amazon branded streaming device as early as this holiday season.
The Journal doesn't mention a name, but over at 9to5Google they pointed out that Amazon has trademarked "FireTube" which fits in with the Kindle, Kindle Fire naming conventions. Fire for the tube, right?
Assuming this is all legit, expect it to feature Amazon Video-on-Demand heavily, while also offering competing services like Netflix and Hulu. (GigaOm is reporting that Amazon is giving partners an October 15th deadline to submit apps for the device, while the Journal just says mid-October.) Price is expected to be low in keeping with Amazon's policy of offering hardware at a bargain price and making money on content. The Journal suggests it may not come with a remote and instead will use a smart phone or tablet as a control device (with an optional remote available at extra cost).
I guess an Amazon set-top box makes as much sense as Kindle Fire tablets, but I can't help having the same reaction I had to the Fire. I'm already getting Amazon content on a variety of devices (Roku, game consoles, and tablets) via Amazon apps; what is this hardware going to offer that these other devices don't?
To answer my own question, part of it is probably brand awareness. When Amazon splashes this device across their homepage consumers who've never heard of Roku or the concept of a streaming box will treat it as a new invention and have confidence purchasing because of the Amazon brand name.
I'm also going to go out on a limb and predict that Prime users will be able to "borrow" some content as long as they have an actual Amazon FireTube, in much the same way there's a Kindle Lending Library for ebooks that only works with actual Kindle hardware, not Kindle apps. (Of course Prime users already have access to free Prime Streaming content, but this will be content not normally covered by Prime.)
I also expect some kind of Airplay-like functionality between Kindle Fire tablets and FireTube. I recently added an Apple TV to my collection and found Airplay religion; I love being able to shift content on and off the TV from my iPad.
Apple TV and high-end Rokus are $100; I'm predicting somewhere in the $69-$79 range for FireTube.
Any thoughts? Is this a product Amazon needs to keep its streaming services relevant? What do you think of my predictions? Leave a comment and let's hear it!
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