Amazon Sticking It to a Crowded Field

MARKET BRACES FOR A STREAMING GIZMO THAT MAY ENABLE GAMING
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Amazon is expected to take a page from the Google Chromecast playbook and launch a video streaming device that will take the form of a “stick,” offer the usual suspects from the video-streaming world, and possibly double as a gaming console.

The online retailer has said next to nothing official about its plans to launch a video streaming device, keeping the product well shielded within its secretive Lab126 unit, but industry reports, research analysts and social-media scuttlebutt are reaching a consensus.

As for the form factor, it was originally believed that Amazon would launch an Apple TV-style puck-like settop, but multiple reports say Amazon will instead follow in the footsteps of Chromecast and Roku by centering on a small, stick-like device that plugs into a TV’s High-Definition Multimedia Interface port. As for timing, The Wall Street Journal reported that the device would go on sale in early April. Website GigaOm said the device will ship with must-have apps such as Netflix and Hulu Plus.

The device will most likely use a “forked” version of the Android operating system (as Amazon’s Fire tablets do) and provide easy access to Amazon Instant Video out of the chute.

Putting a new twist on HDMI sticks, Amazon may position the gizmo to double as a lower-end gaming console. Dave Zatz, who blogs about gadgets at ZatzNotFunny.com, said he spotted an Amazon-branded wireless Bluetooth gaming controller as it passed through Brazil’s regulatory agency that could be offered as an accessory to the new streaming device, and possibly to Amazon’s tablets as well. Such a move could also portend the future introduction of a more powerful gaming machine.

Among the hints hiding out in the open, the Amazon controller features a logo for Amazon GameCircle, a service that lets Kindle Fire users track their gaming progress and compare scores with other players.

Although Amazon has been mum about what its new device will do, the company has already shot down rumors it is developing a pay TV service.

Whatever form Amazon’s new device takes, it will be entering a competitive, saturated market of video streaming devices. But Colin Dixon, chief analyst and founder of nScreenMedia, said if any company can jump in and be successful, it is Amazon.

“The first thing to consider is their retail power,” Dixon said. “Amazon can push the device through its website and make it very cheap and easy for people to adopt.”

Dixon said he expects Amazon to sell the device at or near cost and use it as a content-selling conduit for Prime Instant Video and its electronic sell-through service. “There’s a decent chance they’ll have success in the market with it,” he said.

History is on Amazon’s side. The online retailer has already shown it can be successful in the tablet market, despite the presence of the iPad and a swarm of Android-powered tablets, Dixon noted.

TAKEAWAY

While Amazon has kept its video streaming device under close wraps, a number of hints out in the open suggest it will be an HDMI stick that could double as a gaming console.

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