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Op-Ed: What’s To Become Of The Apple TV Now That The Amazon Fire TV Is Here?

Op-Ed: What’s To Become Of The Apple TV Now That The Amazon Fire TV Is Here?

April 3, 2014
Somewhere in Indiana, a new Amazon fireTV is making its way to my home. And no, it isn’t a review unit. Why did an Apply guy with an Apple TV, Roku 3, and smart TV just spend $99 for Amazon’s new streaming box? Because I’m tired of waiting for whatever new home entertainment product Apple is planning to introduce. Did I mention that the Amazon fireTV also looks awesome?

Behind the eight ball

The pressure must be building on Cupertino’s Apple TV team to produce something spectacular. Unfortunately, whatever they had planned has probably gone by the wayside quite a few times in recent weeks. Apple’s original plan for the Apple TV in 2014 was likely wrapped around the idea of providing an a la carte system blessed by a few key entertainment providers. When those plans went out the window, I think they turned their attention to forming an alliance or two with cable providers. That may still happen (with Comcast), but time isn’t on Apple’s side, as the launch of Amazon’s new product shows. The Amazon fireTV hasn’t reinvented the wheel as far as content goes. You’ll still need a subscription to Netflix, Showtime, or Amazon Prime to really make it shine. What Amazon's new streaming box has done, however, is make it easier and less frustrating to find content to enjoy. The device’s voice recognition software looks like it actually works. Its Advanced Streaming and Prediction (ASAP) feature might end annoying video buffering as we know it. Add to this Amazon’s X-Ray technology powered by IMDb, and FreeTime Unlimited for kids, and the company has all the bases covered. And gaming? Sorry Apple, but Amazon isn't even the first out of the gate on this one. Roku has been offering a limited number of games on its systems for a while now.

Open up the system, Apple

The reason Apple is truly now behind the eight ball in home entertainment isn't because of the Amazon fireTV features mentioned above. Rather, its that Amazon’s video service (and Prime library) is now accessible pretty much everywhere. Apple’s iTunes? It remains in a closed system. To truly reinvent home entertainment, Apple needs to go back to its original plan and invent something new. If this means acquiring a significant stake in a company like DirecTV, Netflix, or Roku, so be it. In the interim, they also need to rethink iTunes. Rumors suggest iTunes is coming to Android mobile devices. This is a great start, if the chatter is true. However, they also need to make iTunes content available on alternative video streaming boxes like the Amazon fireTV and Roku. Will Apple do this? I haven’t a clue, and maybe the suits in Cupertino don’t yet know either. Regardless, the ground is shifting rapidly and Apple needs to do something significant. Otherwise, the Apple TV will remain a hobby product, and iTunes will look even more like a closed system than it really is. It was long expected that the next Apple TV would launch this spring. Given the changing landscape, perhaps Apple would be wise to wait and focus on expanding the reach of iTunes. We could know Apple's plans soon enough. WWDC 2014 begins Monday, June 2. About my Amazon fireTV; expect a review in the coming days.

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