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Amazon's Fire TV skates to where the Apple TV puck is

Dan Moren | April 4, 2014
Amazon's new Fire TV is a direct shot across Apple's bow, and a clear indication that the battle for users' living rooms is now underway.

"Many people don't have game consoles--they don't have them because they can't afford them or they don't want to pay for them," Amazon's Peter Larsen said during the press event. "These customers now have to go to their smartphone or tablet and play games there."

As with Siri, games are a place where Apple has held a lead over Amazon, and yet has chosen, thus far, not to focus on bringing those capabilities to its set-top box. Then again, Apple's success at gaming on iOS has come to seem more and more like an accident rather than a savvy business move—the company never expressed much interest in the market on the Mac. The attempts Apple has made to bolster gaming have often seemed half-hearted—Game Center, for one and, more recently, support for game controllers on iOS. The latter has barely caught on so far; initial reviews have been lackluster, at best. In fact much of the success of gaming on iOS often seems to have been accomplished in spite of Apple's own efforts rather than because of them. 

Boxing match
This is Amazon's first-generation set-top box, and as such it can reap the benefits of having seen where Apple, Roku, and Google have succeeded and failed over the last several years. So it's not surprising that the device that was announced this week is on par with the current state of the art—it would have been far more surprising had it lagged significantly behind. 

Again, that's not to say that Amazon's offering is superior, right out of the gate. It has its advantages (among them, that Amazon can bring its own streaming service, with a recurring monthly subscription, to the party) as well as its disadvantages (it can't yet match all the content Apple offers, nor does it seem to have any feature as singularly compelling as AirPlay). 

But for all the noises the company has made about the Apple TV being an area of "intense interest," Apple has yet to really put its money where its mouth is, and show us what's so interesting about it.

From what we've seen of Amazon, it's a company that doesn't mind throwing out an early version of a product that's good, if imperfect, and then quickly iterating upon it—just look at all the changes the Kindle has gone through in the past seven years.

Apple, on the other hand, also follows the iterate model, but it likes to roll out devices that feel complete right from the get-go—see the iPod and iPhone—and then improve them as the state of technology improves.

With Amazon's entrance, most of the major tech companies now have a foothold in the living room. Over the past decade, we've seen plenty of skirmishes and forays into this market, but it's not hard to see that the battle is finally beginning in earnest.

 

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