Teased a little over a month ago, e-commerce giant Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) has just officially announced its Fire TV Cube, a new Alexa-powered set-top box. Details about the Fire TV Cube had leaked to AFTVnews late last year, and the official announcement is mostly in line with those leaked images. Fire TV Cube is a hands-free streaming media player that supports 4K Ultra HD, HDR, Dolby Atmos audio, and looks like...well, it looks like a cube.
However, the big twist is that Fire TV Cube does not require a remote, although one is included in the box.
"Alexa, turn on the TV."
Much like Echo devices, Fire TV Cube includes far-field voice recognition that leverages numerous microphones and beamforming technology. There is a small light blue light bar across the top of the device for visual feedback, similar to what is found on Echo devices. Users will be able to control the device entirely through voice commands without ever having to touch the Alexa remote. Even if the TV is off, users will be able to ask Alexa to turn the TV on, as well as other commands like adjusting volume or switching inputs.
Fire TV Cube will support all the most popular over-the-top (OTT) streaming services that you would expect a modern set-top box to, including Prime Video, Netflix, Hulu, and more. Live TV services are also available when connected to certain cable providers, which Amazon says will cover 90% of cable-subscribing households. Since Alexa is deeply integrated, that also means users will be able to control all of their smart-home devices through Fire TV Cube as well. This is particularly interesting use case (more on this later).
Priced at $120, Fire TV Cube will be the most expensive Fire TV device, but more affordable than competing products like the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) TV 4K, which is only now about to receive Dolby Atmos support and starts at $179. However, Amazon is already discounting Fire TV Cube for Prime members, who can purchase it for $90 for a limited time. Fire TV Cube will ship later this month on June 21.
Amazon just out-Appled Apple
Once upon a time, Apple envisioned using the Apple TV as a smart-home hub, but that vision has mostly languished in the years since. Instead, Amazon took the smart-home market by storm with the original Echo and Alexa, barely stopping to catch its breath. While Apple continues to struggle with making Siri competitive even to this day, Alexa is a thriving voice platform with over 25,000 skills.
As Apple is wont to do, it made HomeKit a little too closed off, with onerous requirements on smart-home device manufacturers that inevitably hindered adoption at the manufacturer level. Specifically, Apple had certain hardware requirements for HomeKit certification, and only started transitioning to software authentication last year (Amazon has always primarily utilized software authentication). That's helped increase the number of HomeKit devices for Apple's platform, but now Apple is scrambling to catch up in smart-home technology.
To be clear, Apple TV can be used as a smart-home hub via the Siri Remote, but the challenge is that the HomeKit ecosystem itself is underwhelming. Not only is Alexa a much more robust smart-home platform, but Amazon also just took things a step further by removing the need for a remote altogether, providing an even more intuitive and seamless voice-controlled experience.
The net result of all of this is that Amazon just realized a fuller version of Apple's own vision before the Mac maker could.
John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Evan Niu, CFA owns shares of Apple and NFLX. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon, Apple, and NFLX. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.