When Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) unveiled Amazon Fire TV two weeks ago, it was immediately apparent the new HDMI streaming media player held a great deal of promise.
Fire TV offers all the usual suspects, among them Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, SHOWTIME ANYTIME, Pandora, Watch ESPN, and NBA League Pass. But it also boasts several key features its competition lacks, from superior hardware specs to intelligent software aimed at eliminating buffering delays, the pending implementation of its kid-friendly FreeTime interface, and the ability to serve as a broad-reaching gaming platform.
Perhaps most intriguing, however, is Amazon Fire TV's voice search -- or, to borrow Amazon's words, "Voice search that actually works."
Well, sort of...
By most accounts I've read, that last assertion largely holds true. Just press a button on the remote -- which doesn't require line-of-sight, by the way -- and say the title, genre, actor, director, or whatever you want to find. Barring a few tongue twisters like Zach Galifianakis, Fire TV voice search seems a pretty solid alternative to hunting and pecking for individual characters.
However, it comes with one huge caveat: As it stands, Fire TV voice search only works with Amazon's own content services and music video specialist VEVO. Granted, that's nothing to scoff at, and it's safe to assume a large number of folks buying Fire TV are Prime subscribers who already enjoy Amazon Instant Video.
Unfortunately, chatty users hoping to search outside these two platforms were left wanting more.
Enter unified voice search
But according to Amazon, that's all about to change. In a press release Thursday evening, Amazon announced Hulu Plus, Crackle, and SHOWTIME ANYTIME are joining VEVO to integrate their full catalogs into Fire TV's unified voice search.
Amazon Devices VP Dave Limp elaborated, "We're excited and energized by the momentum we're seeing with Fire TV. Customers are telling us they love it, developers are building for it, and we're working hard to expand existing features and build new ones."
To be sure, this effectively addresses arguably the biggest complaint users have about Fire TV. After all, voice search is one of the few key features completely absent -- for now, anyway -- in other comparable media streaming devices. And as long as it falls short of a completely unified solution, it'll remain an obstacle for consumers to really embrace Fire TV wholeheartedly.
This begs the question: Why isn't Netflix jumping aboard the unified voice search bandwagon?
On one hand, while Netflix isn't competing directly with Amazon on the hardware front, keep in mind Amazon Prime and Instant Video represent the single largest threat to Netflix's own streaming empire. As a result, I can't imagine Netflix is particularly interested in propping up an innovative new feature provided by the competition.
On the other hand, if Amazon Fire TV does end up being a huge hit with consumers anyway, Netflix could be shortchanging its own platform by not going along for the ride.
Or maybe it's just the engineering challenge. After all, it's hard to say exactly how complicated a coding feat it'll be for Netflix to integrate its own massive library of content with Amazon's new voice search. Keeping in mind Amazon's press release states Hulu Plus, Crackle, and SHOWTIME ANYTIME are all promising the completion of their respective integrations "starting this summer," maybe Netflix just needs a bit more time.
In the end though, Netflix or not, this is a solid first step by Amazon toward resolving one of the few shortcomings of Fire TV.