AT&T Inc is preparing to bring connected car users exclusive content such as videos and games that can be streamed onto personal mobile devices later this year, AT&T’s senior vice president of emerging devices Chris Penrose said.
“It’s no different than being able to hook onto a Wi-Fi hotspot anywhere and get access to content you already subscribe to and get unique content that you could only get in the back of the vehicle,” Penrose said.
AT&T has signed up eight automaker partners, including General Motors Co, Audi AG and Ford Motor Co, to hook up cars with Internet access. The goal is to offer free or paid content exclusively for connected car users and sell more data, Penrose said in a recent interview.
AT&T is talking to its auto industry partners and content companies to bring new content like “special” shows or gaming levels on phones and tablets in connected cars, Penrose said. This would be in addition to subscription services such as Hulu and Netflix that users can already stream on mobile devices.
Most Americans already own a mobile phone, and the $1.7 trillion U.S. wireless industry is turning to connected cars and devices for growth. Besides being the essential pipes that deliver data, telecom players such as AT&T are looking to extract revenue from content.
GM has begun testing new content on its OnStar in-vehicle service best known for connecting drivers to live operators for directions or emergency help.
The subscription-based service, which also sells data to drivers, has special offers and some exclusive content on apps such as Famigo, an educational app for kids, and TumblebooksTV, a children’s digital books app. It also has retail partnerships with Dunkin’ Donuts and travel booking site Priceline.com for location-based deals.
AT&T is exploring business models that include revenue share for data, content and advertising with automakers, content and retail partners, Penrose said without sharing specific details.
AT&T is working with automakers to design a landing page or a portal for users to log in to access content, get vehicle service updates and buy data, he said.
YouTube began laying out the terms of the service in a letter seen by IDG News Service. The letter was sent Wednesday to members of YouTube’s Partner program, which lets YouTube video makers earn money from ads and merchandise.
It’s not clear when the new service will launch, nor the price or what it will be called.
“While we can’t comment on ongoing discussions, giving fans more choice to enjoy the content they love and creators more opportunity to earn revenue are always amongst our top priorities,” a YouTube spokeswoman said.
YouTube will pay video creators using the service 55 percent of the total net revenues from subscription fees, according to changes to the terms of the Partner program. That’s the same percentage partners collect from advertising. The changes go into effect on June 15.
A YouTube spokeswoman declined to comment on how revenue would be divided.
It’s unclear what type of content will be offered through the service, though some of it might be premium or exclusive content that can’t be found elsewhere. YouTube might position it as a premium service with its own programming, perhaps akin to Netflix or HBO’s new streaming service.
Its success is likely to depend on the number and diversity of video partners YouTube gets.
YouTube will have plenty of competition. In addition to Netflix, there’s also Vessel, a new paid video service from the former CEO of Hulu.
HBO’s standalone streaming service will launch on Apple Inc devices in April, ahead of the season premiere of hit series “Game of Thrones,” the network said, a move to reach millions of viewers who do not subscribe to pay television packages.
The new HBO Now service will cost $14.99 a month. It will include the network’s past, present and future series plus its lineup of Hollywood movies, HBO Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Richard Plepler said at an Apple event in San Francisco.
It is the first time the premium network will be available to people with Internet access who shun traditional TV bundles with dozens of channels. Other media companies including CBS Corp and Dish Network Corp also are taking steps to reach those audiences.
“This is a transformative moment for HBO,” Plepler said after an introduction by Apple CEO Tim Cook.
The move by Time Warner Inc’s HBO could threaten the video businesses of cable and satellite companies, which are fighting to keep customers from dropping their TV packages. It also amps up competition with streaming services such as Netflix Inc. HBO’s library of hits includes “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City.”
Starting in early April, HBO Now will be available through the Apple TV box and on iPhones, iPads and the iPod touch. The fifth season of “Game of Thrones” premieres April 12.
Apple will be the exclusive digital provider of HBO Now for three months. The network also is aiming to convince traditional TV distributors to offer the service as early as April.
Ubisoft is claiming that the reason that its latest Assassin’s Creed game was so bad was because of AMD and Nvidia configurations. Last week the Ubisoft was panned for releasing a game which was clearly not ready and Ubisoft originally blamed AMD for its faulty game. Now Ubisoft has amended an original forum post to include and acknowledge problems on Nvidia hardware as well.
Originally the post read “We are aware that the graphics performance of Assassin’s Creed Unity on PC may be adversely affected by certain AMD CPU and GPU configurations. This should not affect the vast majority of PC players, but rest assured that AMD and Ubisoft are continuing to work together closely to resolve the issue, and will provide more information as soon as it is available.”
However there is no equivalent Nvidia-centric post on the main forum, and no mention of the fact that if you own any Nvidia card which is not a GTX 970 or 980. What is amazing is that with the problems so widespread, Ubisoft did not see them in its own testing before sending it out to the shops. Unless they only played the game on an Nvidia GTX 970 and did not bother to test it on a console, it is inconceivable that they could not have seen it.
“We can’t go out and invest that kind of money deploying fiber to 100 cities not knowing under what rules those investments will be governed,” AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson told investors on a conference call earlier this week.
“We think it is prudent to just pause and make sure we have line of sight and understanding as to what those rules will look like,” Stephenson added.
His comments came just two days after President Obama urged federal regulators to invoke rules banning Internet Service Providers such as AT&T from requiring payments from content providers like Netflix to get higher network priority.
AT&T has promoted its U-verse GigaPower service in recent months to bring 1Gbps service to cities and has heard from 100 different cities who are candidates for the rollouts. In an online promotional video, AT&T notes that it already has 16.5 million broadband connections and has laid more than 1 million miles of fiber optic cable.
Google, meanwhile, has connected several U.S. cities with its Google Fiber 1 Gbps connections and has plans to serve dozens more cities.
The delay in AT&T’s fiber optic investment could be vast, given AT&T’s estimate in 2013 that it would spend $14 billion over three years for wired and wireless broadband infrastructure in what it called Project Velocity.
AT&T didn’t respond when asked how long the delay in its fiber rollouts could be. But the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Monday said it won’t create new rules in its open Internet deliberations until 2015.
The FCC’s delay came shortly after President Obama on Monday called for far-reaching rules to affect cable and phone companies, including AT&T and other wireless carriers, that operate as ISPs. Obama made it clear he opposes any attempt by ISPs to prioritize Internet traffic in exchange for a higher payment by a content provider.
AT&T is part of a large group of carriers, including the CTIA industry group, opposed to Obama’s approach. Members have argued that regulating ISPs like traditional phone companies under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, as Obama prefers, won’t hold up in court.
Groups that favor expanding Internet service to underserved populations in inner cities and rural U.S. areas have largely welcomed fiber optic expansion by both Google and AT&T. The impact of AT&T’s delay on their efforts isn’t clear.
Amazon is persisting in buying content to round out its service, with designs to take on Netflix Inc and other online digital media services. But that increasing spending has helped keep the company in the red, inviting criticism from investors.
Audible, the audiobooks service it bought in 2008 for $300 million, is picking up the 10-person company for an undisclosed sum. Audible founder and Chief Executive Donald Katz said in a statement on Monday the company had been attracted by Rooftop’s content as well as its pool of comic talent.
Rooftop records comedians at clubs across the country and licenses the digital rights to thousands of hours of comedy, which is broadcast either live or later on demand. The company’s media partners include Apple Inc and Yahoo, and it also works with streaming services such as Sirius XM, Spotify and Pandora.
Its content now becomes part of Audible, itself a fast-growing seller of online audiobooks, and vastly increases Rooftop’s audience, said Rooftop Chief Executive Officer Will Rogers.
Amazon is expected to continue acquiring digital content at a rapid clip. In past years, it began investing heavily to branch out from its online retail roots, delving into Hollywood-style content production as well as developing a line of tablets, smartphones and set-top boxes to accelerate the sale of digital content.
Redbox Instant, a streaming video service partnership between Verizon Communications Inc and Outerwall Inc’s Redbox, will cease to exist this week because the venture has not been as successful as hoped, the two companies jointly announced.
The service, which combined the Redbox DVD rental kiosk business with a streaming video offering from Verizon, was launched in 2013 to compete against online video company Netflix Inc but never caught on with consumers.
Redbox Instant will shut down on Oct. 7th, the companies said in a joint statement.
“The joint venture partners made this decision after careful consideration,” the statement said. “The service had not been as successful as either partner hoped it would be.”
Subscribers will receive an email notifying them of the termination of the service. A separate email will be sent on Oct. 10 with details on refunds, the statement said.
The alliance marked Verizon’s first foray into video streaming outside its network operating region, but it never gained a foothold against online rivals such as Netflix, Amazon.com Inc and Hulu Plus.
The telephone company had only offered Web video services to subscribers using its FiOS TV service, which competes with cable providers such as Comcast Corp and Time Warner Cable.
The open letter is signed by Quickflix CEO Stephen Langsford and addressed to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and the internet community. Langsford asks Netflix to Australia through the front door. He accuses it of ignoring backdoor access to its services, hauling in cash and stepping on Australian rightsholders.
“Netflix not only knowingly collects revenues from subscribers with unauthorised access to your US service, investing nothing in the Australian market nor paying for Australian rights to the content you make available, but also tacitly encourages Australian consumers to inadvertently breach the copyright of the content owners,” he said.
“Unlike yourself, Quickflix has obtained all necessary Australian rights to the content on its platform, faithfully meets all necessary security requirements, including geo-filtering imposed by the content rights holders, and continues to reinvest in its service with the goal of offering the very best service in the market to its customers.”
We have asked Netflix to comment on this, but so far it has not responded.
Langsford made some suggestions to Hastings about getting Netflix’s game in order, starting with a legal launch and a VPN lockdown.
“We challenge Netflix to play by the rules. It’s how we do it here in Australia. Stop turning a blind eye to the VPN services acting as a gateway to your service. Be honest and face up to the issue of unauthorised access to your US service,” he said in his sign off.
“Have the courage to limit your service only to the territories where you have legally obtained the rights to operate by abiding by the geo-filtering obligations required by your content license agreements. And do so immediately.”
The Quickflix CEO said that he looked forward to fair and square competition and the resulting benefits to Australians.
The company said the new functionality makes using Bing more like “having a conversation.”
It lets you ask questions sequentially that build off each other, so you don’t have to keep repeating the topic you’re asking about.
For instance, if you ask Bing, ”Who wrote Dracula”? “Bram Stoker” pops up at the top of the screen. You can then ask, “Where was he born,” and it gives the answer “Dublin, Ireland.”
Microsoft said it answers the questions by combining “conversational understanding” with its database of knowledge about people, places and things.
It comes as Bing’s largest competitor, Google, is working to make its own search engine better at understanding queries in natural language.
Google also has a conversational search mode that works in a similar way, though currently it only works when doing voice searches in Chrome and in Google’s mobile search app.
Bing’s new feature works well, and you can take the questions far. After asking about Bram Stoker “Where was he born,” you can also ask, “When did he die?” Answer: April 20, 1912. Or, “How did he die?” Syphilis. (But, asking simply “how?” did not work as well.)
In Bing, the feature works on the desktop as well as on mobile devices.
Microsoft has worked to make Bing more useful over the years, partly by integrating a wider range of information from outside sources into results. Data from social sites like Twitter and Facebook plays a part in this, as well as data from services like IMDB and Netflix.
Earlier this year Bing expanded its index of the Web to include more information about professionals like doctors, lawyers and real estate.
With nearly 70 percent market share in the U.S., Google is still by far the dominant player in search, according to comScore. Microsoft’s Bing has just under 20 percent share.
But Bing’s new feature could give it a leg up against Google when it comes to search, at least for now.
The announcement of the deal, put together in May, comes as Netflix has been waging a public campaign against such fees, which they present as tolls, and calling on the Federal Communications Commission to review the market.
Having brokered this so-called interconnection agreement, AT&T and Netflix are now working to build out new network connections for Netflix content to be delivered directly to AT&T’s servers “to improve the viewing experience for our mutual subscribers,” the companies’ representatives said.
“We’re now beginning to turn up the connections, a process that should be complete in the coming days,” AT&T spokesman Michael Balmoris said.
This marks the third such agreement Netflix struck with major U.S. Internet service providers in recent months after it revealed similar traffic exchange agreements with Verizon Communications Inc in April and Comcast Corp in February.
Consumers have also complained to the FCC about an ongoing spat between Netflix and major Internet providers, saying they are experiencing slow download speeds for Netflix video.
Both sides accuse each other of causing a slowdown in Internet speeds by the way they route traffic.
Financial terms of such interconnection agreements are secret. The FCC last month moved to privately review the current deals, though did not indicate specific plans to regulate that part of the market.
German monthly Magazine Manager cited people familiar with the matter as saying the talks were far advanced but no deal had been clinched and that Netflix was also in touch with other German telecoms groups.
Netflix in May unveiled plans to launch in both Germany and France this year, in the biggest test so far of its global expansion strategy.
Manager Magazine said Deutsche Telekom was open to accommodate Netflix’s expansion even though the service would compete with the German company’s own web-based TV offering called “Entertain”.
Deutsche Telekom declined to comment.
Netflix, whose internet-based delivery of movies and TV series such as “House of Cards” has disrupted pay-TV markets in the United States and elsewhere, wants to grow its international business to reach new customers and increase its buying clout with content providers.
It is already in more than 40 countries, mostly in Latin America, and has entered Britain, Ireland, the Nordics and the Netherlands in the past two years.
In Germany, it would compete with Amazon’s Prime Instant Video, ProSiebenSat.1′s Maxdome, Sky Deutschland’s Snap and Vivendi’s Watchever.
Germany has the highest number of broadband households in Europe, with 29.1 million in 2013, according to estimates from SNL Kagan.
BlackBerry Ltd has agreed to a licensing deal with Amazon.com Inc that will let the Canadian smartphone maker offer some 240,000 Android applications from Amazon’s app store on its lineup of BlackBerry 10 devices this fall.
The move allows the Waterloo, Ontario-based company to add a vast array of consumer-focused apps to its devices, while at the same time directing its own efforts toward developing enterprise and productivity applications.
Customers who own smartphones powered by its BlackBerry 10 operating system will now be able to access popular Android apps such as Groupon, Netflix, Pinterest, Minecraft and Candy Crush Saga on their BlackBerry devices this fall. Google Inc makes Android, the mobile operating system used in more than a billion phones and tablets.
The apps will become available after the Canadian smartphone maker rolls out the upgraded BlackBerry 10.3 operating system, the company said.
The move is the latest by the smartphone pioneer to streamline its focus as it attempts to reinvent itself under new Chief Executive Officer John Chen as BlackBerry phones have lost ground to Apple Inc’s iPhone and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd’s Galaxy devices.
Analysts saw the move as a step in the right direction, but are not sure whether it will help turn the tide for BlackBerry.
“While this will widen the BB10 app ecosystem, the consumer
smartphone environment still remains challenging,” Wells Fargo analyst Maynard Um said in a note to clients.
Um views the announcement as a positive for BlackBerry, but said “whether it stems consumer churn remains to be seen.”
Chen wants to remain a competitor in the smartphone segment, but is focused on making BlackBerry a dominant force in machine-to-machine communications. The company’s QNX software already is a mainstay in the automotive industry, powering electronic and other systems in a wide range of cars.
BlackBerry already works with hundreds of large enterprise clients, including corporations and government agencies, to manage and secure mobile devices on their internal networks.
Chen intends to build on those ties and BlackBerry’s security credentials to let these enterprise clients build and customize in-house corporate and productivity applications for their employees.
U.S. regulators will review agreements between Netflix, Verizon, Comcast and other content and Internet providers to determine whether they are causing slow web download speeds for some consumers, especially for streaming video content.
Consumers have complained to the Federal Communications Commission about the ongoing spat between Netflix and Internet service providers (ISPs). Both sides accuse each other of causing a slowdown in Internet speeds by the way they route traffic.
“At the heart of this is whether ISPs that provide connectivity in the final mile to the home can advantage or disadvantage content providers, and therefore advantage or disadvantage consumers,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said on Friday.
Large content providers such as Netflix Inc have historically paid middlemen or ISPs to deliver their content to consumers. The specifics of such agreements, known as “interconnection” and sometimes “peering,” have been secret and outside of the FCC’s regulatory scope.
The FCC earlier this year launched a new effort to set rules regulating how broadband providers manage Internet traffic on their networks. Netflix has urged the agency to begin regulating such agreements to do away with fees that content companies pay.
Though the FCC has not indicated that it plans to regulate the deals, the agency is now asking multiple Internet service providers and content companies, particularly video service providers, to provide details, Wheeler said.
“Consumers need to understand what is occurring when the Internet service they’ve paid for does not adequately deliver the content they desire, especially content they’ve also paid for,” he told reporters after a monthly FCC meeting.
“What we are doing right now is collecting information, not regulating. We are looking under the hood. Consumers want transparency. They want answers. And so do I,” he said.
In an earlier statement Wheeler said the commission is “not suggesting that any company is at fault.”
Consumer advocates, who support stricter regulatory oversight of relationships between content and Internet providers, welcomed the step and called on the FCC to make details of those agreements public.
It is unclear whether the FCC plans to do so.
Analysts pegged the FCC’s move as a win for Netflix, which on Friday welcomed the move toward more transparency.
“Americans deserve to get the speed and quality of Internet access they pay for,” Netflix spokesman Joris Evers said in a statement.
Netflix earlier this year agreed to pay fees to Verizon Communications and Comcast to bypass middlemen and deliver content directly to the companies’ subscribers, ensuring faster speeds.
“Netflix has been paying (for traffic delivery) since inception. It wants free, I get it, but someone has to pay for it,” Jim Cicconi, AT&T Inc senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs, said last week.
Netflix streaming accounts for nearly one-third of North American web traffic during peak times, according to research by Sandvine Corp.
Netflix vice president for global public policy, Christopher Libertelli, this week said the company already invests money in delivering traffic to the Internet provider.
“We pay a lot of money to drop content at the doorstep of an ISP. All we’re really asking is for the ISPs to swing the door open,” Libertelli said at the Aspen Institute think tank. “This has become a new choke point.”
With Amazon’s Fire TV device the first out the door, the second wave of microconsoles has just kicked off. Amazon’s device will be joined in reasonably short order by one from Google, with an app-capable update of the Apple TV device also likely in the works. Who else will join the party is unclear; Sony’s Vita TV, quietly soft-launched in Japan last year, remains a potentially fascinating contender if it had the right messaging and services behind it, but for now it’s out of the race. One thing seems certain, though; at least this time we’re actually going to have a party.
“Second wave”, you see, rather implies the existence of a first wave of microconsoles, but last time out the party was disappointing, to say the least. In fact, if you missed the first wave, don’t feel too bad; you’re in good company. Despite enthusiasm, Kickstarter dollars and lofty predictions, the first wave of microconsole devices tanked. Ouya, Gamestick and their ilk just turned out to be something few people actually wanted or needed. Somewhat dodgy controllers and weak selections of a sub-set of Android’s game library merely compounded the basic problem – they weren’t sufficiently cheap or appealing compared to the consoles reaching their end-of-life and armed with a vast back catalogue of excellent, cheap AAA software.
“The second wave microconsoles will enjoy all the advantages their predecessors did not. They’ll be backed by significant money, marketing and development effort, and will have a major presence at retail”
That was always the reality which deflated the most puffed-up “microconsoles will kill consoles” argument; the last wave of microconsoles sucked compared to consoles, not just for the core AAA gamer but for just about everyone else as well. Their hardware was poor, their controllers uncomfortable, their software libraries anaemic and their much-vaunted cost savings resulting from mobile game pricing rather than console game pricing tended to ignore the actual behaviour of non-core console gamers – who rarely buy day-one software and as a result get remarkably good value for money from their console gaming experiences. Comparing mobile game pricing or F2P models to $60 console games is a pretty dishonest exercise if you know perfectly well that most of the consumers you’re targeting wouldn’t dream of spending $60 on a console game, and never have to.
Why is the second wave of microconsoles going to be different? Three words: Amazon, Google, Apple. Perhaps Sony; perhaps even Samsung or Microsoft, if the wind blows the right direction for those firms (a Samsung microconsole, sold separately and also bundled into the firm’s TVs, as Sony will probably do with Vita TV in future Bravia televisions, would make particular sense). Every major player in the tech industry has a keen interest in controlling the channel through which media is consumed in the living room. Just as Sony and Microsoft originally entered the games business with a “trojan horse” strategy for controlling living rooms, Amazon and Google now recognise games as being a useful way to pursue the same objective. Thus, unlike the plucky but poorly conceived efforts of the small companies who launched the first wave of microconsoles, the second wave is backed by the most powerful tech giants in the world, whose titanic struggle with each other for control of the means of media distribution means their devices will have enormous backing.
To that end, Amazon has created its own game studios, focusing their efforts on the elusive mid-range between casual mobile games and core console games. Other microconsole vendors may take a different approach, creating schemes to appeal to third-party developers rather than building in-house studios (Apple, at least, is almost guaranteed to go down this path; Google could yet surprise us by pursuing in-house development for key exclusive titles). Either way, the investment in software will come. The second wave of microconsoles will not be “boxes that let you play phone games on your TV”; at least not entirely. Rather, they will enjoy dedicated software support from companies who understand that a hit exclusive game would be a powerful way to drive installed base and usage.
Moreover, this wave of microconsoles will enjoy significant retail support. Fire TV’s edge is obvious; Amazon is the world’s largest and most successful online retailer, and it will give Fire TV prime billing on its various sites. The power of being promoted strongly by Amazon is not to be underestimated. Kindle Fire devices may still be eclipsed by the astonishing strength of the iPad in the tablet market, but they’re effectively the only non-iPad devices in the running, in sales terms, largely because Amazon has thrown its weight as a retailer behind them. Apple, meanwhile, is no laggard at retail, operating a network of the world’s most profitable stores to sell its own goods, while Google, although the runt of the litter in this regard, has done a solid job of balancing direct sales of its Nexus handsets with carrier and retail sales, work which it could bring to bear effectively on a microconsole offering.
In short, the second wave microconsoles will enjoy all the advantages their predecessors did not. They’ll be backed by significant money, marketing and development effort, and will have a major presence at retail. Moreover, they’ll be “trojan horse” devices in more ways than one, since their primary purpose will be as media devices, streaming content from Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Hulu, Netflix and so on, while also serving as solid gaming devices in their own right. Here, then, is the convergence that microconsole advocates (and the rather less credible advocates of Smart TV) have been predicting all along; a tiny box that will stream all your media off the network and also build in enough gaming capability to satisfy the mainstream of consumers. Between the microconsole under the TV and the phone in your pocket, that’s gaming all sewn up, they reckon; just as a smartphone camera is good enough for almost everyone, leaving digital SLRs and their ilk to the devoted hobbyist, the professional and the poseur, a microconsole and a smartphone will be more than enough gaming for almost everyone, leaving dedicated consoles and gaming PCs to a commercially irrelevant hardcore fringe.
There are, I think, two problems with that assessment. The first is the notion that the “hardcore fringe” who will use dedicated gaming hardware is small enough to be commercially irrelevant; I’ve pointed out before that the strong growth of a new casual gaming market does not have to come at the cost of growth in the core market, and may even support it by providing a new stream of interested consumers. This is not a zero-sum game, and will not be a zero-sum game until we reach a point where there are no more non-gaming consumers out there to introduce to our medium. Microconsoles might do very well and still cause not the slightest headache to PlayStation, Xbox or Steam.
The second problem with the assessment is a problem with the microconsoles themselves – a problem which the Fire TV suffers from very seriously, and which will likely be replicated by subsequent devices. The problem is control.
Games are an interactive experience. Having a box which can run graphically intensive games is only one side of the equation – it is, arguably, the less important side of the equation. The other side is the controller, the device through which the player interacts with the game world. The most powerful graphics hardware in the world would be meaningless without some enjoyable, comfortable, well-designed method of interaction for players; and out of the box, Fire TV doesn’t have that.
Sure, you can control games (some of them, anyway) with the default remote control, but that’s going to be a terrible experience. I’m reminded of terribly earnest people ten years ago trying to convince me that you could have fun controlling complex games on pre-smartphone phones, or on TV remote controls linked up to cable boxes; valiant efforts ultimately doomed not only by a non-existent business ecosystem but by a terrible, terrible user experience. Smartphones heralded a gaming revolution not just because of the App Store ecosystem, but because it turned out that a sensitive multi-touch screen isn’t a bad way of controlling quite a lot of games. It still doesn’t work for many types of game; a lot of traditional game genres are designed around control mechanisms that simply can’t be shoehorned onto a smartphone. By and large, though, developers have come to grips with the possibilities and limitations of the touchscreen as a controller, and are making some solid, fun experiences with it.
With Fire TV, and I expect with whatever offering Google and Apple end up making, the controller is an afterthought – both figuratively and literally. You have to buy it separately, which keeps down the cost of the basic box but makes it highly unlikely that the average purchaser will be able to have a good game experience on the device. The controller itself doesn’t look great, which doesn’t help much, but simply being bundled with the box would make a bold statement about Fire TV’s gaming ambitions. As it is, this is not a gaming device. It’s a device that can play games if you buy an add-on; the notion that a box is a “gaming device” just because its internal chips can process game software, even if it doesn’t have the external hardware required to adequately control the experience, is the kind of notion only held by people who don’t play or understand games.
This is the Achilles’ Heel of the second generation of microconsoles. They offer a great deal – the backing of the tech giants, potentially huge investment and enormous retail presence. They could, with the right wind in their sales, help to bring “sofa gaming” to the same immense, casual audience that presently enjoys “pocket gaming”. Yet the giant unsolved question remains; how will these games be controlled? A Fire TV owner, a potential casual gamer, who tries to play a game using his remote control and finds the experience frustrating and unpleasant won’t go off and buy a controller to make things better; he’ll shrug and return to the Hulu app, dismissing the Games panel of the device as being a pointless irrelevance.
The answer doesn’t have to be “bundle a joypad”. Perhaps it’ll be “tether to a smartphone”, a decision which would demand a whole new approach to interaction design (which would be rather exciting, actually). Perhaps a simple Wiimote style wand could double as a remote control and a great motion controller or pointer. Perhaps (though I acknowledge this as deeply unlikely) a motion sensor like a “Kinect Lite” could be the solution. Many compelling approaches exist which deserve to be tried out; but one thing is absolutely certain. While the second generation of microconsoles are going to do very well in sales terms, they will primarily be bought as media streaming boxes – and will never be an important games platform until the question of control gets a good answer.
Speculation about Amazon’s plans for its TV service, including the possibility that it could launch its own streaming device, has increased ahead of a news conference in New York next week.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that the online retailer was considering a free, add-supported streaming TV and music service. Amazon spokeswoman Sally Fouts said no such plan was in the works.
“We have a video advertising business that currently offers programs like First Episode Free and ads associated with movie and game trailers, and we’re often experimenting with new things,” she said in an e-mail on Friday. “But we have no plans to offer a free streaming media service.”
Amazon’s streaming TV service currently comes included as part of its popular $99-a-year Prime service, which offers unlimited two-day shipping among other perks.