Fire TV, Apple TV, and what it all means for the gaming market

Earlier this week Amazon launched their much awaited streaming media box for the big screen, Fire TV. Android Central has done a Fire TV review and iMore has already put the Fire TV vs. Apple TV head to head, and it's been compared to Roku as well. Most people seem to agree there isn’t anything too special about what Amazon has done … at least not yet.

Media-wise, the FireTV gives you lots of good options including Amazon Instant Video, Netflix and Hulu Plus. But Amazon didn’t just release a streaming media box. They’ve also turned the Fire TV into a pretty cool casual gaming platform. This is all possible because they’re running a forked version of Android, FireOS "Mojito".

Earlier this year Nvidia launched the Tegra K1 processor and claimed that Android would soon become the next major gaming platform. We may not yet have console-quality games on products like the Fire TV, but we’re starting to see the beginning of very low-cost streaming boxes support pretty cool games.

So is Amazon ahead of Apple? In gaming you could make the argument that they are in the lead, but it’s still very early days. Firstly, Apple has AirPlay, which lets you stream iPhone and iPad games to an Apple TV. Second, we have to remember that Amazon’s Fire T V (and everything else they do around it) is only available in the US market. Amazon has yet to even bring its MP3 store to Canada, so I’m not going to get too excited about the prospects of having Instant Video and all the other services any time soon.

Apple, on the other hand, seems to have more experience than any other company on the planet when it comes to signing license agreements across a huge number of countries for media content. They mastered this with music on iTunes first. In 2014 the industry is expecting a new Apple TV platform. If we don’t get one, I think it’s fair to say everyone will be disappointed in Apple. And if it does come I think it’s high time they bring out a Game Store for the popular streaming box.

Amazon may be ahead on games right now but I think there is more value in Apple’s global distribution capabilities and I think Apple should be able to quickly surpass what Amazon has done.

As a technology investor I think it’s cool that games are moving towards pure digital distribution just like software has, just like mobile games have, and just like movies have (mostly). Between Microsoft, Amazon, Apple and other guys who might enter the market (probably using Android), we are approaching the end of physical disc-based games. I find it interesting that Wall Street still values a company like GameStop, who sells physical games, at almost $5 billion. Just as Netflix might be blamed (in large part) for the bankruptcy of BlockBuster, I wonder if in a few years we’ll look back at retails stores like GameStop and notice that digital downloads (or rentals, or membership plans) killed the physical store.

Disclosure: I own shares in Amazon and Apple.

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