Understanding the reasoning behind Amazon’s ban of the Apple TV, Chromecast, and Nexus Player

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Amazon’s decision to stop selling streaming devices that don’t support Amazon Prime Video has ruffled quite a few feathers. Many see this decision as a way for Amazon to hurt the sales of competing devices, but there is a lot more to it than that. The real issue, and likely the driving force behind this decision by Amazon, is with in-app purchase restrictions imposed by Apple and Google, as well as the closed nature of the Google Cast protocol.

Amazon has decided to stop selling media streaming devices which do not support Prime Video. They have explicitly named the Apple TV, the Chromecast, and the Nexus Player as the devices being removed from Amazon.com. Roku, Xbox, and PlayStation devices were explicitly listed as being unaffected because they “interact well with Prime Video.”

Many are quick to point out that it’s Amazon themselves who have decided to not bring Prime Video support to the banned devices and that it’s fully in Amazon’s control which devices fall under the ban reasoning. While, on the surface, it’s true that Amazon can technically add Prime Video support to the banned devices at any point, there are actually underlying restrictions put in place by Apple and Google, which prevent a full featured implementation of Amazon Instant Video on the banned devices from being a financially sound option for Amazon.

The issue lies primarily with Apple and Google’s rules for in-app purchases. Both companies require that all digital content purchased within apps in their app stores must use the respective company’s in-app purchase mechanism. This ensures that both Apple and Google receive a 30% cut of all digital content sales within apps in their app stores. An app developer cannot offer an alternate form of payment, be it PayPal or one’s Amazon account, for digital content.

“Apps that link to external mechanisms for purchases or subscriptions to be used in the App, such as a ‘buy’ button that goes to a web site to purchase a digital book, will be rejected” ~Apple App Guidelines

“Developers offering products within another category of app downloaded from Google Play must use Google Play In-app Billing as the method of payment” ~Google App Guidelines

This means that, if Amazon were to release an Amazon Instant Video app for the Apple TV or Nexus Player, they would be forced to forfeit 30% of all movie sales, movie rentals, TV show sales, TV show rentals, and Prime membership sign ups initiated through those apps. We don’t know enough about the specifics of Amazon’s profit margin on digital video sales to know for sure, but it’s probably accurate to assume that losing 30% of all sales would make Amazon Instant Video apps on these devices financially unviable for Amazon.

Roku, Xbox, and Playstation do not impose the same 30% cut and restrictions for digital sales within apps, which is why those devices have Prime Video apps and are excluded from the ban. Remaining is the Chromecast, which actually has additional restrictions around it that makes it a poor choice for Amazon to support.

Amazon Instant Video apps exist for both iOS and Android mobile devices, but each come with their own quirks due to the previously mentioned in-app purchase limitations imposed by Apple and Google. The iOS app can only play Prime video content and content you’ve purchased or rented through Amazon’s website. This way, Amazon never initiates a sale through the iOS app. The Amazon Instant Video app for Android, on the other hand, circumvents Google’s in-app purchase restrictions by only being available through the Amazon Appstore for Android. Only Android apps within the Google Play store are subject to Google’s in-app purchase restrictions on digital content.

So, you may ask, why doesn’t Amazon include Google Cast support for Chromecast in their iOS and Android apps? The reason is likely due to Google Cast restrictions imposed by Google. In order for Google Cast to function on Android, the device must have Google Play Services, which is a proprietary background service and API package. In order for device manufacturers to include Google Play Services, they must license the package from Google, which results in contractual limitations being placed on the device. These licenses are the primary way Google maintains an iron grip on Android, despite it being open source.

The restrictions Google enforces around Google Cast and Google Play Services means Amazon can never make their own Fire Phone, Fire TV, and line of Fire tablets compatible with Google Cast or the Chromecast. Sure, Amazon can technically make their limited iOS and Android apps compatible with the Chromecast, but it would cause confusion and disdain with customers of Amazon’s own hardware devices who will not understand why the feature was omitted from their device. So, instead of supporting Chromecast in a limited fashion, it may be that Amazon has decided to hold off on Google Cast capabilities until they are permitted to implement them across all of their apps and devices.

Regardless of what you think about Amazon’s decision to stop selling Apple and Google streaming devices, it’s obvious there’s more going on than just one company deciding not to sell a competitor’s product. Amazon seems to be protesting the restrictions of Apple and Google’s app terms by leveraging their retail presence and implementing their own restrictions. What’s clear is that, as a result of all the various restrictions in place by Amazon, Apple, and Google, we the consumers come out the biggest losers.

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49 comments
  1. jimberkas says:

    this is stupid. i predict that it will backfire on amazon, unfortunately.

    yes, I’d would be thrilled if every streamer could load every streaming service, but that just isn’t going to happen. i don’t even care that much if I have to have a FireTV and a Android TV box both hooked up to my TV.

    Oh well, this will probably push more people to just get a Roku

    • Jeff_C says:

      But Roku in the UK does not have the Amazon Instant Video app. So there is usually some reason why people need more than one streaming device to deliver what they require.

      I think we will have to accept that there will not be one device for all things for the foreseeable future.

  2. Michael says:

    Great post that breaks down the issue past the…. “Amazon doesn’t want to sell competing products”.

    • John Smith says:

      1) “The iOS app can only play Prime video content and content you’ve purchased or rented through Amazon’s website. This way, Amazon never initiates a sale through the iOS app.”

      — So why can’t the Apple TV or Android TV do the same? Play Prime Video content and content pre-purchased through Amazon’s website. As long as you don’t have a button that links to the website, where is the issue? Open the app and it shows “Prime Videos” and “Videos I’ve Purchased”. Boom. I don’t see the problem?

      2) “The Amazon Instant Video app for Android, on the other hand, circumvents Google’s in-app purchase restrictions by only being available through the Amazon Appstore for Android. Only Android apps within the Google Play store are subject to Google’s in-app purchase restrictions on digital content.”

      — Okay. So why not add Cast functionality to the Amazon video app that is on the Amazon Appstore? The Cast SDK is 100% free and available to anyone in the world to add to their app. There is absolutely nothing stopping Amazon from keeping their Amazon Video app on their own appstore and adding Cast to it. Am I missing something?

      3) “The restrictions Google enforces around Google Cast and Google Play Services means Amazon can never make their own Fire Phone, Fire TV, and line of Fire tablets compatible with Google Cast or the Chromecast.”

      — Wrong. YouTube on the Fire TV is Chromecast compatible.

      • Pedro says:

        “— Okay. So why not add Cast functionality to the Amazon video app that is on the Amazon Appstore? The Cast SDK is 100% free and available to anyone in the world to add to their app. There is absolutely nothing stopping Amazon from keeping their Amazon Video app on their own appstore and adding Cast to it. Am I missing something?”

        They can’t and never will be able to use google own apis for their own Amazon app store apps, they could do it for a google play app though.

      • Pedro says:

        “— Wrong. YouTube on the Fire TV is Chromecast compatible.”

        Youtube for Fire TV is just a website wrapper, that is the only way they can have access to google apps.

      • Peter says:

        “Okay. So why not add Cast functionality to the Amazon video app that is on the Amazon Appstore? The Cast SDK is 100% free and available to anyone in the world to add to their app. There is absolutely nothing stopping Amazon from keeping their Amazon Video app on their own appstore and adding Cast to it. Am I missing something?”

        Google Cast requires the Google Play Services to be installed on the client device. And you can not get the Play Services without all other mandatory Google apps. Thus, to add Cast support on their Fire devices, Amazon would have to preload tons of Google apps. Of course, Amazon could add support on other devices but then people would wonder why they can cast from their Samsung device but not from their Amazon device.

        Chromecast and Google Cast are proprietary. There is nothing open about it. Most people don’t know this.

        “Wrong. YouTube on the Fire TV is Chromecast compatible.”

        The YouTube app on the Fire TV is just a wrapper of the Youtube TV website. And yes, you can “cast” to it from Google’s Youtube app. This is, however, NOT Chromecast/Google Cast. It’s a custom implementation Google uses for TVs. It uses the same UI with the Chromecast button … but it’s not. The situation is extremely confusing if you don’t know the technical details.

      • AFTVnews says:

        — So why can’t the Apple TV or Android TV do the same? Play Prime Video content and content pre-purchased through Amazon’s website. As long as you don’t have a button that links to the website, where is the issue? Open the app and it shows “Prime Videos” and “Videos I’ve Purchased”. Boom. I don’t see the problem?

        There’s no technical reason why they can’t create a crippled app for Apple TV and Android TV, but it’s not ideal. My guess is that Amazon was not willing to completely give up on the massive iOS platform, so they went ahead and made a crippled app. Clearly, they don’t feel the same about the Apple TV or Android TV, so they’ve decided to take a stand. It sucks for owners of those devices who are Amazon fans, but ultimately its Amazon’s choice to decide what is and isn’t worth giving up.

        — Okay. So why not add Cast functionality to the Amazon video app that is on the Amazon Appstore? The Cast SDK is 100% free and available to anyone in the world to add to their app. There is absolutely nothing stopping Amazon from keeping their Amazon Video app on their own appstore and adding Cast to it. Am I missing something?

        Again, there is nothing technically stopping Amazon from adding Google Cast functionality to their iOS or Android app. However, that doesn’t mean it’s in Amazon’s best interest to do it. Google does not allow Amazon to add casting functionality to their Fire devices. Adding a feature to competing devices when they aren’t allowed to add the same feature to their own devices is bad for business. Simple as that.

        — Wrong. YouTube on the Fire TV is Chromecast compatible.

        Sorry, but you’re mistaken. Both the YouTube app and the Fire TV support DIAL (Discovery-and-Launch) which is an open protocol similar to Google Cast. That’s what is used to send video from a YouTube app to the Fire TV. Not Google Cast/Chromecast.

        • Dustin says:

          The XBOX ONE and PS4 app doesn’t allow you to purchase content. It’s exactly the “crippled” app that you are talking about so you can go ahead and toss out that theory.

      • b0b says:

        “— Wrong. YouTube on the Fire TV is Chromecast compatible.”

        It is not using the Google Cast protocol.

  3. Justin says:

    Great post. Reminds everyone that none of the three services are free of restrictions and decisions that limit competition.

  4. Nate says:

    “The Amazon Instant Video app for Android, on the other hand, circumvents Google’s in-app purchase restrictions by only being available through the Amazon Appstore for Android. Only Android apps within the Google Play store are subject to Google’s in-app purchase restrictions on digital content.”

    Do you mean like Comixology and the Kindle app, both of which use Amazon’s platform for sales?

    Or what about Kobo? or Nook?

    All four apps are in Google Play. It’s not quite so simple as you might think.

    • AFTVnews says:

      I’m not familiar with those apps, but my guess is those apps are allowed by Google’s exception that alternative purchase methods are allowed if the digital content “may be consumed outside of the app itself”.

  5. Bill says:

    I jumped to conclusions on this move that Amazon made to stop selling competitive streaming devices. I was wrong the second time this year. I read the excellent article on AFTV news about the decision by Amazon and I think the article shed light on some of the conditions that were put in place by the Google and Apple platforms, so I have changed my mind and will probably renew prime membership.

  6. Steve says:

    It’s all ’bout, gots ta get mine.

    I’m guessing that eventually the layers will negotiate smaller margins while still increasing margins. Everyone’s happy, life goes on.

  7. Nate says:

    “Regardless of what you think about Amazon’s decision to stop selling Apple and Google streaming devices, it’s obvious there’s more going on than just one company deciding not to sell a competitor’s product.”

    This I can agree with wholeheartedly. What little we know on the outside doesn’t point to an obvious conclusion.

  8. Dustin says:

    In theory this sounds correct, but lets be real here for a moment. Fire phone = bomb. Kindle Fire tablets, still not sure why anyone would buy one over a standard android tablet since you can just add amazon services but not vice versa. Fire TV, pretty good device with a few limitations that have work around, but its still 3rd behind Apple TV and Chromecast.

    This is about hardware sales and trying to be the top device so people buy digital content through Amazon, plain and simple. They wont convince anyone that is tech savvy, but they may get grandma who barely knows how to use a computer to buy in.

    The Fire TV is good enough to stand as is with Chromecast and Apple TV. What worries is me what will Amazon do if they do get a bigger market share? I could see updates in the future that eliminate YouTube and Netflix. I hate walled gardens.

    • Pete says:

      “Fire TV, pretty good device with a few limitations that have work around, but its still 3rd behind Apple TV and Chromecast.”

      I assume this means in sales, because otherwise it most decidedly blows Chromecast out of the water and in my opinion also kills Apple TV (even the upcoming one, unless you like swiping on a tiny surface on a remote…).

      I also think Fire TV is definitely a great choice for the tech savvy – Chromecast is for people who want to drain their phone/tablet battery while they watch on their TV and for those that don’t care that it can’t connect to simple captive networks in hotels/etc, and Apple TV is for Apple junkies mostly (and I have two Macs and and iPhone and still feel “meh” about my current Apple TV that went ignored by Apple until they came out with the “too little, too late” version that they announced recently) and certainly for the least tech savvy people on the planet as that’s a large chunk of Apple’s target market sadly.

    • Wakey says:

      Almost all the Android tablets however are awful though. The nexus badged ones are the closest to being good devices but even they are riddled with issues of having an OS that was designed with phones in mind and all other devices as an after thought. Android as an OS is falling into many of the issues Windows did, it’s a system designed for a limited number of devices of the same ilk but has suddenly found itself getting bloated and on devices that it’s not ideally suited for. It’s why IMHO Google should be focusing more on framework rather than controlling the whole environment, they shouldn’t be requiring Samsung to run every part of the play services if their devices don’t need it all and they shouldn’t be penalising companies like Amazon by blocking access to play services just because they develop a fork of android that removes aspects that are there for broad compatibility at the expense but make it bloated and slower when the device doesn’t need them and could be snappier

      The Fire Tablets while not perfect perform much better and a really key element is that Amazon’s customer base are often not the really tech savvy people and the FireOS system is not only leaner and snappier but also much more user friendly for those with lesser tech skills

  9. Peter says:

    “The restrictions Google enforces around Google Cast and Google Play Services means Amazon can never make their own Fire Phone, Fire TV, and line of Fire tablets compatible with Google Cast or the Chromecast. Sure, Amazon can technically make their limited iOS and Android apps compatible with the Chromecast, but it would cause confusion and disdain with customers of Amazon’s own hardware devices who will not understand why the feature was omitted from their device.”

    This. Sadly, people without the necessary technical background do not understand this. Google is tightening their control of Android using the Play Services. It’s not a matter of simply “adding support for Chromecast” as many point out. Chromecast support requires Google’s Play Services. And Amazon can’t add those to their Fire devices unless they add ALL of Google’s mandatory apps. It’s the same issue with Google having a tight grip around push messages on Android with their GCM service.

    It’s amazing how Google managed to transform Android from a open platform to a platform that is almost worthless to the average user without Google’s proprietary components in just a couple of years.

    • Pedro says:

      These rules were stipulated since the beginning of Android OS, Amazon decided to circumvent it and fork the OS instead of making their own, that is why they don’t have access to Google services, why would google let anyone use their OS free of charge and able them to make whatever they want with it? like making a competing app store?

      Amazon put themselves in this position fully aware of the consequences, only because we know they are both android is that we complain that their apps don’t offer the same functionality, but in theory they could be incompatible altogether.

      • AFTVnews says:

        Saying Amazon “circumvented” something is inaccurate. Android is open source, which is an open invitation for anyone to fork the platform. One could argue that Google encouraged a company like Amazon to do what they did by making Android open sources in the first place.

        • Pedro says:

          Maybe I used the wrong word, but the fact is that Google is not the one putting obstacles for Amazon to make their apps compatible, Google AOSP has strict rules for companies in order to use their Open source code, if you don’t follow them, Not only you can’t get Google services and their apps, but also the device can’t be produced by the Open Handset Alliance (Which is a group of Manufacturers).

          With this Google is encouraging makers like Samsung, Lg, etc to make their own changes to their firmwares but having the same compatibility and base apps, otherwise it is more work to do for these companies.

          Amazon went their own way, and for that, no one can blame Google that it is their fault that Amazon devices don’t have Google Services.

          I guess what we get from all of this is that Google Android is not as open source as many people think, but you can’t blame them, it would be stupid for Google to make a free base OS, so that everyone can make their own locked store on it, segment the market, and get nothing for it.

          • Peter says:

            “Google AOSP has strict rules for companies in order to use their Open source code, if you don’t follow them, Not only you can’t get Google services and their apps, but also the device can’t be produced by the Open Handset Alliance (Which is a group of Manufacturers).”

            Amazon’s fork of Android is very much compatible with AOSP. It’s not that Amazon can not get Google apps, they don’t want them.

          • Pedro says:

            I mean compatibility in the sense of passing Google’s own Compatibility Test, etc.

            “There are two kinds of Android forks – ‘compatible’ and ‘non-compatible’. ‘Compatible’ Android forks are those that are based on the Android Open Source Project (AOSP); comply with the Android Compatibility Definition Document (CDD); and pass the Compatibility Test Suite (CTS)”

            https://mobiforge.com/news-comment/android-forks-why-google-can-rest-easy-for-now

          • Pedro says:

            But you are right, that Amazon doesn’t even want the google apps or services, since they never even submitted for testing to google, since they never planned to have those features in the first place.

  10. Michael R says:

    The nice thing about my TV is there are several HDMI inputs and I can put more than one device on it.

    As a consumer, I get a chance to vote on the media streaming issue right from my input button on my TV remote. Ones that provide the best viewing experience will get my vote. Ones that do not, will drop down on my HDMI list. And the last one will get replaced as new devices are introduced. There is always eBay for fully tested devices, no reserve.

  11. Pedro says:

    Not all points are valid, Amazon could still make an Android TV and Apple TV app like the one for iOS, with no paid content.

    Also they could go around the Google Play limitations by releasing their app and services via other sources like they did for smartphones, and the way it works in Sony Android TVs.

  12. Pedro says:

    “Amazon seems to be protesting the restrictions of Apple and Google’s app terms by leveraging their retail presence and implementing their own restrictions.”

    It has been there since the beginning, it is not a restriction, is just the way it works, or Google would not make money, not sure how store apps work though, like Amazon and Best Buy have apps in there where you can do purchases outside google in App Purchase system.

  13. Brian Kash says:

    I have gotten lots of great information from this site, so it’s hard for me to say this, but this post is…well, I’ll be polite and say “misleading”.

    A) The Google Play Services issue is ONLY on Fire tablets and the 12 or so Fire phones in the wild. As a percentage of Android devices in use, this is an insignificant amount. The “Limited” IOS and Android apps cover a far, far, far larger base. And as pointed out by Pedro, this is wholly Amazons own doing.

    B) The whole article is arguing why it may be in Amazons best interest not to support the devices. Amazon is not announcing they will not support the devices, they are already not supporting them, they are announcing they will not sell the devices AND BAN OTHERS FROM DOING SO AS WELL! This is unforgivable. Deciding to not sell competing products directly is one thing, banning third party merchants is a whole ‘nother level.

    C) As you yourself point out with Android, the 30% is not an issue either. The way they make you install the app store and Prime Video app as an outside source has already made this moot. Enabling Chromecast support is not a question of devolping, only enabling, it already exists. Remember Primecast? 36 hours and Amazon shut it down. That wasn’t because they were concerned about the customer being “confused”.

    • Pedro says:

      While I am with you on some of the points, after giving it some thought, I believe there is a possibility that Amazon can’t indeed make their app currently work with Chromecast, because their current Amazon app of Instant Video can’t be compiled using the Google Services, I am not entirely sure if it can be compiled in a Way to detect if they are there and use them in that case but don’t show those features for devices which doesn’t have them.

      This of course is not a restriction if they decide to make available an app in googles own play store, but then they will have to do it like the one on iOS where you can’t purchase content directly from it, which I don’t think it’s a big deal.

      • Brian says:

        They can’t on Fire tablets, they truly can on the general Android app. The Chromecast functionality is totally encompassed by the Chromecast app and the Chromecast itself, the Amazon app doesn’t do the work, it just jas to “hand off” to the Chromecast app, which is why it requires Google Play Services and why the Primecast developers were able to do what they did before they were shut down.

  14. Dave says:

    Am glad Amazon did this

    Amazon webstore doesn’t need to help Google or Apple when it comes to these streaming tv wars

    Am happy that Best Buy x Staples will have something that Amazon doesn’t for sale

    • Donovan says:

      It doesn’t bother me at all.

      I just wish Amazon will continue to sell “Nvidia Shield TV” cause I’m getting one in Dec.

      At least it’s cheaper than buying from physical store elsewhere.

      Amazon is still the BEST place to get your gadgets needs.

  15. pmcd says:

    Netflix has subscriptions via the iOS app. They pay 15% and I assume this is also true for Hulu,etc… Amazon is a general retailer. It seems very strange to stop both Google and Apple, neither of which is a general retailer. They, of course, are free to carry what they want. I like Amazon but this decision has lowered my option of them by a small amount. Perhaps it is all some political move to allow Amazon more access to Apple and Google services. Or maybe even a mistake. Whatever, but it just doesn’t sit well with me at least.

  16. HeyRadar says:

    So how can they make apps like Amazon, Walmart, Newegg, etc., and be able to buy thru those apps? I can’t imagine Target giving 30% of everything bought using their app to Apple or Google.

    If they aren’t getting 30% that way then why would they get 30% if you buy a book or video?

    • Jeff_C says:

      A very good point. It is likely that Amazon with their huge sales potential tried to negotiate better terms than 30% of sales value, and when that most likely failed to elicit any favourable response from Google and Apple…

    • Pedro says:

      I think the article mentions the restriction only applies when selling Digital content, which some of those stores have on the web browser, but my guess is they don’t sell their digital content in those apps.

      • Pedro says:

        Well no, I was wrong, I can buy amazon videos or kindle books on amazon google play app, so there must be some other rule, maybe because those need to be consumed in another app.

        • tiyat says:

          The article is incorrect. Google does not take any cut of in-app purchases for digital content such as music, videos, or books.

          The article references Google’s guidelines, but the quote is incomplete. The full quote says:

          ——————————
          https://play.google.com/about/developer-content-policy.html
          * Developers offering products within a game downloaded from Google Play or providing access to game content must use Google Play In-app Billing as the method of payment.
          * Developers offering products within another category of app downloaded from Google Play must use Google Play In-app Billing as the method of payment, except:
          – where payment is solely for physical products; or
          – where payment is for digital content that may be consumed outside of the app itself (e.g., buying songs that can be played on other music players).
          ——————————

          That last part is essential, and it is why Spotify, Netflix, Amazon, etc. do not pay a “Google tax” on subscriptions or digital media purchases.

  17. xnamkcor says:

    None of this excuses Amazon’s actions of banning a hardware product from their store as revenge for those devices not playing nice with their digital distribution platform.

  18. b0b says:

    Thank you for writing this great article going beyond the “Amazon = bad, Google = good” stanza you read everywhere and a bit sickening at this point.

    Or course Amazon did not take this decision lightly.

    My major gripe is Google tying the Google Cast SDK to Google Play Services, to make sure Cast support can only be added to Google Android only and not AOSP or any other Android fork like FireOS.
    It wasn’t always like that: the early beta Chromecast SDK was standalone and worked on any Android device.

  19. Dustin says:

    Just a FYI…You can’t purchase content on XBOX ONE or PS4. You can only watch Prime Video or videos you already own. Pretty much blows a hole in the in app purchase argument. I just wish Amazon wouldn’t play us for idiots. Just admit you want to sell more set top boxes.

  20. Keith says:

    Having your actual product removed from the worlds biggest online retailer is maybe going to hurt sales for google & apple…a lot.
    What you have here is a virtual monopoly, not an illegal one but thats essentially what it is. Difference here is its not hurting the little pee on businesses but 2 GIANTS¡
    Itll be interesting to see how this develops.

  21. Koman90 says:

    I understand the licencing issue with Cast API for chromechast. However the in app purchase theory makes no sense for the Nexus player or any other Android device as Amazon already has you sidload their app store in order to download it.

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