The Amazon Fire TV Shows Streaming Media Devices Are At A Crossroads

For nearly a year, the tech industry has been abuzz with rumors and speculation that Amazon would enter the rapidly growing media streaming device market; challenging category incumbents Apple, Google, and Roku who accounted for 88 percent of category revenue during the 12 months ending February.  Wednesday, Amazon did just that, announcing their Amazon Fire TV to much fanfare.

There are plenty reasons for Amazon to make such a device.   Unit sales of network content devices have grown 78 percent in the last 12 months according to NPD’s Retail Tracking Service and NPD’s Connected Intelligence’s Connected Home Forecast estimates 23 million Internet capable households will own one of these devices by 2015.  A streaming video device also fits in nicely with the rest of Amazon’s product portfolio which includes Amazon Instant Video, but also the Kindle Fire Tablet which, it was mentioned during the launch event, will have some interesting second screen capabilities with the Fire TV.  As far as network streaming devices go, the Amazon Fire TV appears to have most of the requisite features to make an impact on the market.

But just as the network streaming device market has grown, video streaming has become a commodity feature found on most connected devices with screens (and many that just connect to a screen). As such, Amazon spent time Wednesday talking about features that help differentiate the Amazon Fire TV from the rest of the market. Voice search through the device’s remote helps users navigate the library of content.  A feature called Advanced Streaming and Prediction cues up unwatched movies and shows based on a user’s prior viewing habits for faster load times. And, most notably, the Amazon Fire TV can act as a game console for mobile style games using Amazon’s wireless game controller.  We’ve seen a few of these features in other players (The Roku 3, for instance, can play games) but it’s clear Amazon wants the Fire TV to be more than a video streaming device.

The announcement also raised an important question- what does the Amazon Fire TV mean for the future of the network streaming device market?  I fully expect manufacturers to pack in more features and improve the user experience with predictive search and alternative interfaces, just as Amazon has done, but the stage is set for network content devices to do more than stream video.  The Amazon Fire TV’s quad core processor means it can take on some client lite PC tasks- things connected TVs and Blu-ray players can’t do.   Google, Apple, and Amazon – the retailers- could conceivably use their devices to make the TV a new point-of-sale for things other than content.  Opportunities also exist to tie these products in with home security and energy monitoring devices, making the TV a dashboard for those products (Google did just buy Nest after all). With the potential of these new features, network content devices could become the new disruptor in the living room.  The question is do consumers want more from them