UPDATED – Amazon Releases FireTV

It’s a direct shot across the Apple TV bow. How the industry, and Apple specifically should respond remains to be seen…

amazon-fire-tv-close-up

Amazon recently announced the Amazon FireTV, a set-top box similar to the Roku box, Chromecast and of course, the Apple TV. However, there were a few gotchas with the device that have me – and a number of other people – scratching their heads. It’s a good first effort, but; well… I don’t want to get ahead of myself…

Amazon’s FireTV has a similar look to the Apple TV, Apple’s “hobby-based” content streaming project that has them pulling in a great deal more revenue from their content ecosystem than I think most people think or Apple is willing to admit. If you have an iDevice and buy ANY content on iTunes, having an Apple TV so you can play that content on your television set is a no-brainer.

I think Amazon had the same thought. They want to give people that have adopted their ecosystem the opportunity to do the same things – watch their purchased or rented video, listen to their music, etc. on their television sets. However, based on the recently debunked rumors, it seems to me that Amazon had a chance to hit a home run, and instead, swung and missed.

The FireTV… yeah… it doesn’t support Amazon Prime Video. Meaning that you can’t use it to stream any content to your TV from the vastly popular and PAID streaming service Amazon gives its Prime members as part of their (now) $99 annual member fee. Whoever made that decision needs to be hunted down and shot fired.

Apple TV is successful because it allows users to stream items from the iTunes media store as well as a user’s iTunes library. Everything that Apple can stream to your Mac or PC, can come through the Apple TV. Users can also buy and rent content from the set top box.

Amazon won’t stream Prime Instant Video through the FireTV. There’s absolutely NO incentive for any Amazon Prime member to buy the box, even after the $20 price increase most of us have recently been subject to. Again, what idiot thought THAT up? While I understand that they are trying to entice other, new customers and users – many of which may not be Amazon Prime users to the ecosystem – what better way to cement current users into the ecosystem than through a set top box that supports their ENTIRE ecosystem and also allows those users to purchase additional content? I know there was purpose and thought behind the decision not to support Prime Instant Video. I just think their logic is flawed and the decision was, well… wrong.

In my opinion, Apple TV has no direct competitor. Yes. You’re right…there ARE other streaming set top boxes out there. The Roku box and Roku Streaming stick are two big examples at the front of the pack. However, even though it can stream content from external services like Netflix as well, it doesn’t have an ecosystem it could support. The FireTV does.

This decision just feels as though someone was asleep at the wheel. Amazon needs to reexamine it and correct it ASAP. I was seriously considering purchasing one UNTIL I found out it doesn’t support Prime Instant Video. Now, I wonder if I will even bother looking at the product pages for it.

How about you? Are you interested in the FireTV even though it doesn’t support Amazon Prime Instant Video? Would it encourage you to purchase an Amazon Prime membership if it did? Why don’t you join me in the comments below, and tell me what you think of this development.

UPDATE – This article was originally based on initial information available on the internet at the time just before the announcement of the set top box. Much of what you see above has been updated to indicate that Amazon FireTV DOES in fact support Amazon Prime Streaming Video. This is a huge win for Amazon as well as users of Amazon Prime as it corrects nearly every issue I brought up with the service.

What makes this an even more compelling buy, especially if you have most, if not all of your media content purchased through one of Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets, is that like the Apple TV, now you have access to all of your purchased content as well as Amazon’s Prime Streaming Video service.

If you do not have a set top box AND have an Amazon Kindle Fire or Kindle Fire HD tablet, this is the streaming set top box you need to purchase.

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Amazon Free Video Streaming Service?

Yeah… Not so much.  Amazon denies rumors of a free video streaming service.

The interwebs were abuzz the other day when rumors of a new, and free, streaming service from Amazon hit the wire.   The Wall Street Journal had reported that the Everything Store was planning to introduce an ad-supported video and music streaming service in the immediate future.   The service was rumored to feature original series and licensed content, similar to “Betas,” a TV show produced for Amazon’s Prime video service last year.

Amazon-streaming

The big sticking point in this rumor is exactly that – Amazon’s Prime Video service. Prime Video is a perk offered to Amazon Prime Members as part of their (now) $99 per year membership fee.   How this rumored free service would live alongside Amazon Prime Video was not immediately available.   However, the rumor surfaced ahead of a special Amazon media event where the purveyor of nearly everything available on the internet was expected to announce a set top box or streaming stick, capable of delivering web-based video content to your television set.

Amazon’s Sally Fouts, a spokesperson for the Everything Store, has since come out and denied the rumor. Says Fouts, “we’re often experimenting with new things, but we have no plans to offer a free streaming-media service.”

For me, a long-time Amazon Prime member, this is good news.   One of the best perks of Prime membership, one that I use much more often than Prime’s free 2-day shipping, was its video streaming service. If that could be gotten for free, I was giving serious consideration to cancelling my Prime membership.

When I moved to Omaha to take a new job, I decided not to get cable TV service and decided to be a cord cutter. I stream video via Amazon Prime multiple times a week.   If Amazon was going to offer a free streaming service, ad supported or not, it would have left a number of Prime members wondering what they were really getting for their membership fee.

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Navigating the Mobile Landscape: Ecosystems – #3: Where the Heck is Microsoft?

In the Navigating the Mobile Landscape: Ecosystems #1 and Navigating the Mobile Landscape: Ecosystems #2 we’ve been talking about why Ecosystems and mobile devices. The big question that many of you are probably asking is, “Ok… so what’s the big deal? Why do I care about this? We’ve been through Amazon and Google pretty thoroughly.

The one remaining player, Microsoft, has been pretty much out of pocket on all of this. Let’s briefly talk about why.

Bringing it all Together – Where the Heck is Microsoft?
Over the past few years, Microsoft has really struggled with mobility. Quite frankly, it doesn’t know its own butt from a mobile hole in the ground. Its pathetically sad, really. They had this market sown up and they let it slip away from them. Ballmer is a huge part of this problematic equation for Microsoft. He just doesn’t get mobile computing.

When Microsoft introduced Exchange ActiveSync with Exchange Server 2003, as a directed salvo aimed directly at RIM and Blackberry Information Server and Blackberry Enterprise Server, it did more than just hit RIM where it counted the most (in their wallet), it actually won the ecosystem war, really before it started, and didn’t know it.

Exchange ActiveSync (the PIM synching FOUNDATION of the ecosystem) did what BIS/BES did for Blackberry, it did it for all Windows Mobile based devices, and it did it for free, totally undercutting RIM’s revenue model. Today, RIM finds itself nearly unable to recover from this 8 year old wound. To add salt to it, Microsoft has licensed the basics of Exchange ActiveSync to both Apple and Google, bringing push to the iPhone and to every Android device, literally, everywhere.

As for the rest of the ecosystem – music, multimedia, ebooks, pictures etc. – Microsoft sorta had that in place with the Zune and the Zune Marketplace, but killed the Zune a couple years ago. The Zune Marketplace has struggled for any kind of identity since. Microsoft hasn’t cultivated new or tended any existing content distribution agreements that I’m aware of.

Further, Microsoft also killed Windows Mobile in favor of Windows Phone. The platform may be superior to its predecessors from a developer’s point of view, but Windows Phone has failed to gain any real traction with consumers since its introduction. While Microsoft and Nokia have partnered to introduce new hardware on MS’ updated Mango release of the platform, its largely seen as a last ditch effort to save both companies.

As far as a tablet is concerned, Microsoft just can’t seem to get past the, “put the whole OS on a mobile device” stance. No one wants a full blown version of Windows 7 or Windows 8 with its strange metro UI on a tablet. Consumers are telling manufacturers they truly want a companion device, not one device to rule them all, and Microsoft simply isn’t listening.

The best thing that Microsoft can do for itself is:

  • Ditch Windows 7/8 on a tablet and pull together a version of Windows Phone that will work on a tablet styled/sized device
  • Breathe some life into the Zune Marketplace for music, movies and TV shows. Insure that multimedia store apps are tightly integrated into Windows Phone and Windows Tablet (a working name, for lack of any other)
  • Adopt an ereader app and format as its designated platform and go with it. It doesn’t matter what format they choose, but they need to pick on and promote the hell out of it. Please don’t reinvent the wheel or try to bring back Microsoft Reader. It died a long time ago and we don’t need to splinter the ebook market any further
  • Develop Windows Live Essentials components for Windows Phone and Windows Tablet. They also need to update Windows Live Essentials for desktop Windows to include the sync support for WLE.
  • Give the sh…, uh, I mean stuff… Give the stuff away. Off branded Android tablets are doing well because they’re part of the Android ecosystem; but they’re cheap. The HP Touchpad sold well in the Fire Sale because it will make a GREAT Android tablet and again, they were cheap. Microsoft doesn’t have the luxury of brand or eliteism like Apple does. It doesn’t have the install base like Google’s Android does. It needs to get into the market and saturate it – Buy a Windows Phone, get a Windows Tablet, and vice-versa. That kind of thing. If it doesn’t do this, it may as well not even try. All they’re going to do is create a huge charge and/or write off for the company and their stockholders

Based on all of this, what should you get your loved ones for the Holidays? Come back next time, and we’ll start talking about that.

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Navigating the Mobile Landscape: Ecosystems #1

Amazon and the Kindle Fire. Google and the Android-powered tablets, and Apple and the iPad. While Apple still has a huge lead and foothold on the mobile market, I think everyone else FINALLY gets it.

Amazon released the Kindle Fire on 15-Nov-11. Barns & Noble released the Nook Tablet a day or so after that. Both tablets run Google’s Android operating system. The Nook is priced at $249 USD. The Kindle Fire is priced at $199 USD.

Apple – The Leader of the Pack

Despite the fact that Apple’s products boast quite a premium price – the Apple iPad starts at $499 USD – they continue to dominate the tablet market, and their share of the smartphone market is improving. The reason why can be summed up in three words – The Apple Ecosystem.

Through iTunes, Apple’s ecosystem hub, users can sync files, PIM data and browser shortcuts. They can buy, rent and load music, video, pictures, eBooks and applications. They can configure and sync all of their content to an online music locker – iCloud – all at once; and all of their mobile devices, the iPad, iPhone and iPod Family products, run the same operating system, giving users a standardized user experience across all of their mobile devices, regardless of price point. All user data is handled in the same way, and can be shared among authorized family users. The devices are also extremely intuitive and easy to use.

It’s taken Apple eight years to establish, create and refine this consumer ecosystem. It’s taken them that long to build and nurture the vendor relationships and to create and provide the developer community with tools that work within this construct. Apple has defined their consumer ecosystem and has established themselves as the undisputed leader in this space. Ask any tech industry analyst or pundit. They’ll tell you that exactly that. Apple is the company to beat.

Google – Always a Bride’s Maid…

Two years ago, I approached Google with this particular issue and outlined a way for them to compete in, if not own, this space. FroYo was coming online, they had recently introduced the Nexus One, and had authorized Samsung to make and distribute the Galaxy S line of Smartphones. Those could have done anything that the iPhone 3GS was doing, and I felt that my idea, if not dead on, was at least on the right track. They had much of the work done, but just needed to pull it together, insure it integrated appropriately and package it up. It would have given them a leg up on the remaining, or up-and-coming, competition.

Google’s verbal response to me was clear – mind your own beeswax.

They stated they were not, Apple, didn’t want or need to be like Apple, and were frankly, smarter than Apple.

Really?

When I asked why then, they or anyone else for that matter, hadn’t been able to crack the digital music player nut, and pointed out that the only real competition – Microsoft’s Zune – had recently been discontinued, I didn’t get a response. They simply ended the dialog.

Interesting how they introduced Google Music, their own online music locker service; and then recently updated it with the ability to purchase and download songs. They’ve also recently added Google Books to their core Android application collection and updated the Android Market to sell not only books, but music as well. Unfortunately, they’re still missing the desktop photo manager/editor integration. Their also missing integration for a couple other components, but I’m certain they’ll get there eventually. They’re going to have to to remain competitive in this space.

You’re welcome, Google. I should probably send you a pretty hefty invoice for the IP.

Amazon – Never mind, Google…We got this.

Early in 2011, Amazon set the world on its ear – quite literally – when it released and made available to the general public, three specific services: Amazon Cloud Drive, Amazon Cloud Player for Web and Amazon Cloud Player for Android. This development was significant in that it was the first instance of a music locker service that did not get seriously challenged by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) or any other music industry organization or coalition. The key was the way music was getting loaded and played. Users could only access any of their music from one location or device at a time, and sharing of any music was strictly a no-no.

The only thing the RIAA could say was a resounding, “yeah, but…”

Score one for the consumer or little guy, who finally got to store their music in the cloud, and literally play the songs they owned from anywhere they could get an internet connection.

In the same month, actually a few days later, they opened the Amazon App Store for Android, offering a free paid app every week. Pairing both of these together, Amazon found a way to get multimedia content to its users, right to their devices. The music content would play and sync with Cloud Drive via Amazon MP3 on the device, and their App Store undercut Google’s store by offering at least 1 free app per week.

Where Apple pulled together the ENTIRE ecosystem – PIM, Sync Services, multimedia content, apps, eBooks, pictures, etc., Amazon gave users multimedia content, apps and eBooks, and then relied upon the Google Android infrastructure for PIM and Sync Services. It’s ingenious actually, as they could then introduce their own devices (the Kindle Fire, for example), and attract users to their content stores. That’s where the real money is.

Amazon realized this, and as such added additional features to its Amazon Prime services, including unlimited video streaming right to your Android device, including their Kindle Fire tablet.

Come back next time, and I’ll pull everything together and help you decide who is REALLY on top of the mobile landscape.

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