Amazon needs to make a TV

The Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick are great devices. Amazon doesn’t reveal specific sales figures, but they’re often estimated to be the best-selling media players in the nation. With Android TV, Chromecast, and Roku now shipping as the operating system of some new TVs, Amazon’s success in the media streaming market could be in jeopardy if they don’t make a TV running Fire OS, or at least license out the operating system for other TV manufacturers to use on their TVs.

I personally don’t care what “smart” capabilities a TV has because I’d much rather have an external device, that I can easily and inexpensively upgrade, handle the media playback. Many people, however, are perfectly content with using the small selection of sluggish apps that come pre-installed on their “smart” TVs, if it means they can watch Netflix, Amazon Video, and YouTube without having to buy anything else. As the capabilities of TV operating systems progress, even more people will be content with the default capabilities of their TV.

Streaming box operating systems are starting to find a new home as the main interface for TVs. Sharp and Sony have adopted Android TV, Vizio has gone all in on Chromecast, and TCL is using Roku to power some of their TVs. Those three operating systems are far superior than anything found on other “smart” TVs. Once more manufacturers drop their in-house software for those 3rd-party solutions, and once those TVs start penetrating more and more living rooms, even more people will find their TV’s default capabilities good enough to not need external streaming devices.

Regardless of how great future versions of the Fire TV and Fire TV Stick are, Amazon is going to find themselves left behind once most TVs are running modern streaming operating systems that are on par with Fire OS. I wouldn’t expect Amazon to manufacture their own TV from the start, although one with an array of always listening microphones in the bezel for Alexa would be amazing. At the very least, Amazon needs to start talking to TV manufactures and convince them to make TVs that use Fire OS as their main operating system. This will ensure that Amazon has a chance at maintaining its piece of the streaming media market when a “dumb” TV in someone’s living room is as rare to see as a flip phone is today.

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51 comments
  1. Fjtorres says:

    Uh, those are two separate propositions.

    The headline suggestion that Amazon make Amazon TVs is nowhere near as good an idea as suggesting they encourage TV vendors to adopt Alexa, which is great.

    An Alexa-driven TV interface makes plenty of sense; no need for remotes, for starters. Just call out the desired program or network name. “What’s on HBO tonight?” sure beats calling up an on-screen guide and scrolling for page upon page or remembering channel numbers.

    And it would cement Alexa as top dog in home automation. Good for Amazon, good for the hardware guys.

    On the other hand, the TV business is a profitless quagmire for many (even Apple shied away) and Amazon can gain most of the benefits without dabbling in a house brand TV and annoying some of their biggest suppliers.

    • AFTVnews says:

      A more accurate title would be: Amazon needs to get the Fire TV’s operating system running on TVs in some way

      But that’s too wordy so I kept the title simple. I’m not saying they need another OS with emphasis on Alexa. Just the exact same interface/OS that is on the Fire TV, but used as the main software on a TV, including the addition of controlling all TV functions.

      • hdmkv says:

        Think keeping TV’s ‘dumb’ w/’smart’ set-top boxes is still the way to go. More control that way, and we’re not bound to the actual display unit for online/local streaming services. I rely a lot on projectors and they are best used used w/separate media player boxes.

  2. tech3475 says:

    I think smart TVs will eventually suffer though due to support issues, my first smart TV suffered from this when Lovefilm instant (now Amazon) dropped flash support.

    I only ever consider smart features to be an extra as opposed to a reason to buy a set.

    Replacing a £69 box is easier than replacing a £690 box.

  3. Richard says:

    Experience to date has pretty consistently shown that TV manufacturers have been terrible at keeping their apps up to date. Who wants to replace a thousand dollar TV when your favorite app stops working?

    • xnamkcor says:

      The apps for Android are not the TV manufacturers’. They are in the Android OS and are updated as Android apps.

    • AFTVnews says:

      Agreed. I think we’re heading to a future where nearly all new TVs run one of two or three operating systems because those operating systems have all the latest apps. Amazon needs to act now to cement Fire OS’s place as one of those two or three operating systems before it’s too late.

  4. xnamkcor says:

    If Amazon “makes a TV”, then people will just not buy the TV, because Android TV has much better apps and a more pure Android experience. The only thing Amazon Fire TV has is the Amazon integration and Free Underground apps.

    • Jonathan says:

      Maybe I miss stuff, but when people complain about the fire tablets and fire tv not being a pure android experience. Is that something the mass majority of the general public really care about?

      Because between using my phone with the pure android experience and my tablets and fire tv, I alternate between indifference between them and loving the amazon approach. I realize my view may not be majority, but I assume many people are probably indifferent too which operating system their smart tv uses. Do many people truly hate not having the full android, or is this a small vocal minority?

      • EarlyMon says:

        I don’t pretend to know about most people but it’s a problem of competing ecosystems. Without sideloading I can’t get my Play Music or movies library on my Fire TV Stick and I have to root the Fire device to get full Play Store access. I would wager that I’ve rooted far more Androids than most here, believe me, I refuse to root a TV or a TV box. And despite “how easy it is” to cast Amazon content using Google cast, no, it’s not and you can’t beat a Fire device for Amazon content and services.

        I have a 4k Android TV, it’s fair enough and I have my Fire TV Stick plugged in – problem solved and so what if I have Netflix and Hulu duplicated? I don’t care, I use them from whichever side is active at the moment. And when I decide to go all in on 4k, I’ll just replace the Stick with the Fire TV.

        Give me the opportunity to get a TV with Fire built-in and I’d still plug in a Chromecast.

        No one is providing a device that is completely ecosystem-agnostic with a really friendly interface, good for my whole family.

        I started this journey by attaching laptops and boxes at least a decade ago, then my dedicated home theater PCs, then ancillary media servers (yes plural lol) for the house so while I may not have seen it all, I’ll do for someone who has seen most of the solutions that have come along. (I still have an HTPC plugged in to the TV fwiw.)

        I think that the one size fits all TV is not only a myth, it’s an impossible target for some of us.

        Personally I’d be happy if there was no smart TV about it and then I would just plug in a Chromecast and a Fire TV and be more than happy.

        It’s a matter of not wanting my content choices limited.

        I keep checking out the Roku (fans say it does it all) but the interface just doesn’t wow me. Maybe some other time.

      • tech3475 says:

        From my experience, yes they may not care so much about the ui, but they care about the apps/ecosystem e.g. Not having google play store, app slection, etc.

        The only thing Amazon really have going for them is cheap hardware and maybe their other services integration.

  5. George Welsh says:

    I would buy a amazon tv if it had the 4k firetv built in…

    • Ujn Hunter says:

      I just bought a Samsung 4k TV for the holidays and it has 4k Amazon built-in. Actually made my Fire TV Stick sort of obsolete, except for the lack of Kodi which is pretty much all my Fire TV Stick is now good for. No reason to even buy a Fire TV now as the only benefit was 4k and the built-in App on my TV does that.

  6. carter johnson says:

    Amazon needs to integrate home automation into the FireTV STB. Alexa is a good device intermediator, but the plethora of stupid hubs is scaring away mass smart device adoption. Onhub should have become such a universal smarthome hub but Amazon has much greater home penetration than Google can ever hope to acheive. With onboard Alexa the FireTV is positioned to control the entire smarthome while expandibg their share of the OTT SVOD market.

    • AFTVnews says:

      Well said. The TV is in the best position, both physically and metaphorically, to be the device that replaces hubs for home automation. If any device in your home should come with home automation features as an extra, it’s the TV. Not routers, or laptops, or speakers, or phones. The TV tends to be centrally located, doesn’t move, and already has speakers and a screen.

  7. Rob P says:

    I think it could be a good idea as long as Alexa was integrated properly and Amazon became more neutral towards competing streaming content. I can’t image a TV manufacture would want to limit customers to reduced streaming options.

  8. Jay says:

    If being a success in the media streaming market means having the most people possible able to access your programming, then the first thing Amazon should do is release an Apple TV compatible app. That would instantly put Amazon programming in front of many more people. Then they can work on getting TV makers to incorporate Fire OS into their TVs.

    • Gareth Price says:

      Apple insist on all payments (including in app purchases) going through their system so they can take their percentage (usually 30 %). Given the low margins Amazon work on they would not want to give up this amount, the alternative would be that apps or in app payments would cost more on the Apple TV than elsewhere. I believe I read somewhere that Amazon had opened negotiations with Apple but agreement on a lower commission rate could not be agreed

      (Happy to stand corrected if others know more than this)

      • Jay says:

        Yes, what you wrote is correct. I wish, however, that Amazon would at least include an Amazon Prime app just like the one they do allow on the iPad. While the app does not allow purchases, it does allow me to watch Prime video that is included in my Prime membership.

        • Charlie says:

          Why not just buy a device that can access Amazon’s stuff? It isn’t expensive. You can get a Roku for like $20-30

          • Jay says:

            I have a Roku Ultra so that I can watch Amazon video in 4K and HDR. I was just trying to make the point that an Apple TV app would make it easier for the many current Apple TV owners to access Amazon content.

    • AFTVnews says:

      It all comes down to whether or not offering a service on a competitor’s platform will help them more or their competitor more. There is an Amazon Prime Video app for iOS devices because Apple’s phone and tablet market share is much larger than Amazons. Currently, having access to all the iOS users, even thought it’s through a crippled Amazon Video app, is more beneficial to Amazon than the extra tablets Amazon would sell if only their tablets played Amazon Video. Don’t be surprised if Amazon Video become only available on phones if Amazon’s tablet market share grows enough to rival the iPad.

      In the same manner, when Apple released their streaming music service, they also released an Android app for it because having access to those users was more beneficial to them than limiting the service to Apple devices. That’s not the case for their video marketplace, which is why there is no iTunes, to watch movies and TV shows, for Android.

      Amazon, Google, and Apple are all playing the same balancing game. The larger a companies piece of the pie is in an area, the better it is for them to limit that area to their own devices. If their piece of a particular segment is small, then it’s better to make it available to as many people as possible to help it grow.

      • EarlyMon says:

        Amazon stopped being customer-centric the day they stopped selling Chromecasts.

        Given that they sold other phones while going for their own phone, that move spoke volumes.

  9. Charlie says:

    A much easier solution would be to encourage (aka pay) a third party like Roku to incorporate Alexa into their OS. That way every Roku TV becomes a trojan horse for Amazon without any of the risk that comes with trying to muscle their way into the tv game.

    People have been saying for years that smart tvs are going to eliminate the streaming box market but I don’t see it happening. A standalone box is always going to be able to best the performance of a smart tv and most people are terrified of their expensive tv becoming obsolete.

    My Roku TV is great but it still has speed issues when navigating heavy apps like Netflix/Sling.

    That isn’t a big deal when I can supplement it with a Fire TV but it’s a nightmare scenario if I had to solely rely on the TV hardware alone.

  10. Cary says:

    The way I see it is, and I know I will be in the minority, Amazon should continue to provide the best streaming device possible, and not integrate into a TV. Think of product life cycles. The TV is a mature product, and is basically in a replacement cycle, as such most people do not upgrade their TVs but let us say every 5-10 years. Contrast that with streaming devices, which are in a growth cycle, and not yet saturated the market. From experience, if one is not upgrading these devices let’s say every two years on the outside the experience is less than ideal. So in short buying a TV now with a streaming option that will be either obsolete, or frustratingly slow in a few years will only detract from the brand not enhance it.

    Most likely the best of both worlds would be an upgrade able module or a Stick be sold with a new TV so that for a modest fee one could get upgrades in a streamlined manner.

    • AFTVnews says:

      If Amazon only had the resources to concentrate on one of the markets, boxes or TVs, then yes, I agree right now it should be boxes for the reasons you’ve listed. But they can do both, so why not. I imagine it doesn’t take much more resources to expand the Fire TV OS to work on TVs, so better to cover both bases. Even though boxes will always outperform TVs, at some point the TV performance and OS will be good enough for the masses that boxes/sticks will start to die out. The point of my article is that Amazon needs to start preparing for that now and not wait until it’s too late.

  11. Kawshik says:

    According to Google’s contract with OEM’s they can’t use non Google certified fork version of Android like Fire OS. If they did they will lose their GMS partnership and won’t be able to use Play Store in any of their devices.
    So it will be hard to find OEM who will Fire TV OS.

  12. shwru980r says:

    The TV might function for decades while the integrated fire tv may cease to be supported by amazon much sooner, leaving inoperable functionality.

    • AFTVnews says:

      True, but which would be supported longer: a TV running Fire OS/Android TV/Roku OS or a TV running some no-name “smart” OS with a few random apps?
      My money is on Amazon/Google/Roku. That’s what’s going to happen. As these platforms mature, the same way people buy phones today, in the future consumers will be selecting the OS of their TV as much as they select the hardware.

  13. pmcd says:

    Smart TV’s have never been appealing and Android TV is hardly a success. A small inexpensive media player makes more sense to me, especially if Alexa were built in. Large TV’s simple don’t get replaced fast enough so that tying the Fire TV OS to antiquated hardware would actually hurt the platform.

    Amazon should have an easy to use alternative to Chromecast and Apple’s AirPlay. Focusing on large TV hardware would be a waste of time.

    • AFTVnews says:

      In the sense of general consumer electronics that people buy, Android TV has not been a success, but in the sense of smart TV OSes, Android TV is doing pretty well. Compared to LG’s webOS, Smasung’s Tizen, Roku OS, and that old Yahoo app platform, Android TV already has a nice chunk of the market with all new Sony TVS and part of Sharp’s and Philip’s lineup. Profit margins are slim for TV manufacturers, so as more cut costs by ditching their in-house software for the free OS options, Android TV will slowly grow. Not because it’s amazing, but because it’s pretty good for a free OS.

      Amazon already has an alternative to Chromecast/AirPlay called Fling, but developers have mostly ignored it because there isn’t a large enough install base (i.e. Fire TV owners) that they need to add the support to their apps.

  14. Chris says:

    I think a little bit of both would be good. Why not have a dumb tv with a smart interface. Have something like Google Auto or Apple Auto. Where the smart phone is the driving force and the screen in the car just displays whats on the phone. Having a built in Alexa into the TV but the brains of the system can be updated. Integration of the tv and the streaming device has to be better integrated.

  15. Jack says:

    I have a nine year old 46″ Sony Bravura set. I had it calibrated right after I bought it. Back then, it set me back $3000. The picture quality is stunning, so I really have no reason to replace it, other than I’d like a larger screen. I have a FireTV stick connected to a Yamaha powered 7.1 system. A new FireTV box is in the very near future. It will replace the stick, which I’lll connect to the set in the bedroom (a Sony 42″). That set is now eleven years old, and while it’s a 720, the picture quality is also excellent (it also cost me $3000). I’m also going to get a larger tv for the living room. The existing set will go into the bedroom, and the bedroom set will go, who knows. Maybe the master bath. With me so far???? lol
    Anyway, I’m very happy with an add on device, but I do like the idea of a “smart tv”. Why not have both a smart tv, and an add on streamer to handle stuff the tv may not be able to handle as well as a seperate streamer. At age 67, I don’t think I’ll be buying very many new tv sets. My preference is picture quality over convevience, so that’s what I’ll be looking for when I buy a new 55″. But I also do hope Amazon follows your advice. I like Amazon, and want to see them lead the pack.
    And a belated Merry Christmas to everyone!

  16. boudyka says:

    My experience of integrated Media TV’s isn’t good. LG made a specific for the UK Market TV for our DVB-S and DVB-T markets, the problem was it wasn’t future proofed. LG sold it with this, that and the other coming soon features, which as you can guess never appeared.

    The upshot is you end up with White Elephant of a TV facing extinction with Media features that were not upgradeable or even fully implemented. So an expensive TV Dodo.

    Having the flexibility to swap in and out media modules is essential and if that’s too inflexible for the maker, HDMI with a seperate media player is fine by me. It’s one button away on the remote. So no worries.

  17. AS says:

    I believe the FireTV now is an android build which most TV’s now have anyways currently. Amazon’s claim to fame is limited to its box and its well designed integrations. I believe the industry is gearing towards Android TV’s as a standard and having Amazon license its software is a low propitiation. Not a thought through article in my opinion.

    • EarlyMon says:

      Fire TV has always been an Android fork and it runs TV stuff but that doesn’t make it an Android TV.

      Not sure what translation error led to propitiation.

  18. TechyChris says:

    Why not make a modular smart TV system? I agree buying a tv that includes a “built-in” non-replaceable streaming option that may lose support within a few years does not make sense at all. So maybe Amazon should market a tv with a modular holder seamlessly built into the side (so it looks pretty, no wires because that’s what we’re really talking about). Then build the streaming device with the same form factor. Ship it attached with the tv. Then make future upgraded modular boxes with the same form factor that can be purchased for $20-$30 and snapped right into the side. Solves a few problems.

    • AFTVnews says:

      What you’re describing isn’t much different than what the Fire TV and Fire TV Stick are right now. You take an older TV and improve its capabilities with a module, but in this case, the “module” is a box/stick and the interface is the HDMI port. There’s really no benefit to make it all a proprietary port/module the way you describe, other than being slightly more aesthetically pleasing.

      The way I see it, when buying a new TV, you should expect all the smart features of a TV (especially those that rely on an external services) to stop working at some point in the future. All those smart apps and features should be considered free bonuses on top of the core functionality of the TV, which is to be a dumb display for external input devices.

      As long as the OS and app capabilities of the TV don’t effect the price much, I’d much rather go with Fire OS than some clunky in-house OS made by the TV manufacturer. Later, if it becomes outdated, use it as a dumb TV with a modern external media box/stick.

    • Mike Gentry says:

      Modular displays should be the way to go. I would prefer to buy the best dumb monitor and then just plug tuner and streaming modules into it. Amazon should not make their own television. Remember the Fire Phone?

  19. rocky1956 says:

    Like Cary and Jack, I believe that the 7-10 year life cycle of a tv set precludes fire os integration, even if the update capability and support we now see for the Fire OS system is continued. Look at the Fire tv box and stick, both devices are in second generations within 3 years of introduction, with intermediate UI updates reaching the earlier generation boxes and sticks last. Buyers spending multi-thousands of dollars on a brag box won’t tolerate such a situation, being obsessed with always having the latest and the greatest. My 9 year old Toshiba 55 inch living romm tv will be replaced with a 60-65 inch set, 4k but hopefully dumb, no need to pay for installed apps when I already own a Fire TV box and 2 sticks, all 2nd gen units.

  20. Rich says:

    Rarther than build a TV why are they not trying to get Fire OS on board with tv manufacturers and also why the heck isn’t fire tv available in more countries Apple TV is in a bunch

  21. Keith says:

    I love having choices so sure if they make a TV Id consider it, but I don’t see Amazon trying it. They failed big time when they took the leap into the smart phone market. They have much better consumer research techniques than mine so they must see all those smart TVs collecting dust on the shelves at Wal-Mart. Within a year it wouldn’t surprise me if you walk out of the store with a TV that costs a dollar an inch–55 inches for $55! Theyre gonna eventually need to clear some space.
    Another thing they might consider is its an idea that Apple played around with a few years back, wound up scrapping it.
    It might sound dumb to some people but Id like to see more work go into portable projectors. I watch so many videos on my phone, itd be cool to just throw the picture onto the nearest wall(like Tony Stark.) I know its been done but Im hoping for a HQ picture in high or low light environments.
    Sorry for going off topic but that seems more like the future than another TV. I thought we’d all be using holographic keyboards by now.

    • Robert says:

      Keith, you’re spot on, not off topic at all. Amazon should add fanless projection capability to the next gen Fire TV using a miniaturized, cool running bulb. Better yet, add this function to the next gen Fire Phone, and throw in a one year Prime subscription with the deal. What would a consumer pay for this game changer, especially if an Amazon blimp could deliver it in 13 minutes?

  22. JFC says:

    I have mixed feelings on Elias’ thesis above:
    On one hand, I like and use the Amazon Fire TV platform, and want to see it succeed and expand.
    However, Point #1: I’m currently using a 5+ year old HDTV at home that works fine for my current needs. Because, in the time I’ve had it, I’ve probably bought a half dozen different streaming devices, as technologies and platforms have changed, to keep the TV current. Altogether, the streaming devices in total cost less than the single HDTV. Lesson: it’s easier and cheaper to advance my technology thru external devices vs. buying a new TV every year.
    Point #2: While I understand the appeal of simplicity, I got my now 87-year-old father a year or two back to start using an Amazon Fire TV stick. He’s pretty totally non-technical and at first didn’t have a clue. But now, after a bit of hand-holding and occasional technical support from me, he loves using the Fire TV stick as his main TV viewing platform. If he can manage it, I think anyone can.
    Point #3: I also bought a newer HD TV in this past year to replace an old analog model, and decided to go with a “Smart” model from TCL that’s running their anonymous version of Android. TCL’s built-in and VERY limited app store (it didn’t come with Google Play access) is full of a lot of junk, the apps that are there are old versions and aren’t updated. And so even though the TV is “smart,” I still use an attached Fire TV device to give the TV the “smarts” that I want.
    Bottom line: as long as Amazon is churning out and regularly updating $30+ Fire TV sticks (and Roku and to some extent Google Chromecast are doing the same), I’d be inclined next time to just buy a non-smart TV with the latest technology ports (HDMI or whatever follows), and then let plug-in sticks and boxes carry me forward for many years.

    • xnamkcor says:

      I’m using an 11 year old HDTV.

      If I get a new one, I’ll have to make sure it also has Side by Side picture and buy another Fire TV so I can multitask.

  23. Mewtwo says:

    They’ll stock their branded smart televisions in flying warehouses

    http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-38458867

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