Amazon To Start Selling Actual FireTV TVs, Make Alexa Do More Things

Image courtesy of Seiki

CES — the annual Consumer Electronics Show — is about to light up Las Vegas for the rest of the week. So ’tis the season for tech news to come rolling on in from far and wide. Today’s big announcements come courtesy of Amazon, which wants to put its Fire interface and AI assistant Alexa basically everywhere.

First up? Television. Today, comapnies Seiki, Westinghouse, and Element announced they will be launching lines of 4K, ultra-high-def capable smart TVs this year that use the Amazon FireTV platform as their brains.

The “FireTV Edition” sets range from 43″ to 65″ and all come with the Amazon FireTV interface — including Alexa voice control — pre-installed. And of course, customers are encouraged to be Amazon Prime members, with all the streaming content and add-on channel access that includes.

The FireTV isn’t new; Amazon launched the full-sized box version in April, 2014 and added the streamlined “Stick” version in November that same year. But those are both plug-in, third-party devices for adding to someone else’s television.

Launching what is effectively an Amazon-branded, Alexa-containing TV is a first for the company, which has a mixed track record with hardware to date. The FireTV has been successful, as has its Kindle line of e-readers and tablets. On the other hand there’s the Fire Phone, which was basically a total flop that was not long for this world.

So perhaps not wanting to be stuck with the manufacturing cost, storage challenges, or in fact just plain risk of creating FireTV sets in-house, this time Amazon’s outsourcing.

Neither Amazon nor the Chinese-based manufacturer of the sets, Tongfang Global, has yet announced price points for the various set sizes.

The announcement comes right on the heels of Dish formally launching its AirTV player, which is a plug-in device like the FireTV — with the key difference that it allows you to integrate over-the-air broadcast programming into your otherwise app-based channel guide functions.

But now, the FireTV sets also promise to integrate live, antenna-using, over-the-air content into their channel guide and search functions. Meaning consumers get basically the same function but without plugging in extra hardware.

And that plugging-in step seems to be the thing that companies are now fighting to let consumers skip. Roku has already been licensing its software to TV-manufacturing partners for years, and now controls 13% of the smart-TV market.

Basically, both companies are targeting lower-spending, less-tech-savvy users who just want their TVs to work without necessarily researching, buying, and setting up extra equipment — exactly what Amazon’s hoping to achieve.

“Smart TVs can be cumbersome and difficult to use,” said Sung Choi, Tongfang Global VP of marketing, about the problem the Amazon partnership is supposed to solve.

Choi’s sentiment was echoed by Marc Whitten, VP of Amazon’s FireTV division. “Teaming up with brands … on a new range of smart TVs allows Amazon to deliver an experience that’s familiar and easy to use,” Whitten said in a statement. “FireTV Edition offers access to a great selection of streaming and over-the-air TV and movies, Alexa for easy voice search and content control, and the many other features and experiences customers have come to expect from the best-selling line of Amazon FireTV products.”

As ZDNet notes, however, the TV integration is just one small step in Amazon’s great Alexa leap forward this year. Because not only will Alexa be automatically added to those new TVs, but also she’ll be able to control a whole lot more things.

Among the list are Dish Network’s Hopper receiver/DVR and several smart/connected Whirlpool and Lenovo devices. So yes, theoretically, you could turn on your new TV and, mid-show, ask Alexa to pause it and then run the dryer for another cycle on permanent press and order more laundry detergent before you ask it to resume streaming the episode of The Expanse you were watching.

Whether you want to do that much shouting to your Amazon-connected home remains to be seen… but Amazon is clearly betting that at least some folks will.

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