Amazon is pulling Apple TVs and Google Chromecasts from its digital marketplace, effectively waging a war with Apple and Google when it comes to devices that can play streaming video.
What this means practically is that from now on, when customers search for streaming video set-top boxes on Amazon, they’ll only be able to choose from Amazon’s Fire TV products, plus a handful of preferred devices that also carry Amazon’s Prime Instant streaming service. In one sense, this is the biggest move yet in the battle to control the future of TV.
Amazon said in an email to its sellers earlier this week that it will no longer list Apple TV and Chromecast products because they don’t “interact well” with Amazon Prime Instant Video. (Roku stays, because Amazon Prime Instant is available on the company’s various TV streaming devices.)
However, in doing this, Amazon has massively reduced competition on the most popular online store in America at a very critical time, following the announcement of a new Apple TV, new Chromecast, and new Amazon Fire TV products last month.
This move stings more for Google than Apple. Remember, Amazon’s Fire TV operating system (and every Amazon OS) is actually just a forked version of Android. For the non-nerds, since Android is open-source, any person or company can come along and use that code. Amazon did just that—it took the code, made it work with its platform, and is now trying to force Google out of the Amazon marketplace.
Open-source software is a wonderful thing. It’s what made Android the most popular mobile operating system, and is why Linux quietly powers the internet. Programmers with limited experience (like the copy/paste “script kiddies”) and experienced software engineers alike can toy with functioning code to create new services, which are sometimes open-sourced in turn. But for Google, the second edge of the open-source sword is starting to cut, and on a product that actually makes some cash. Google announced it’s sold 17 million Chromecast units as of May, a significant milestone for a software company.
On the bright side, both Chromecast and Apple TV have some momentum, as each have launched new products in the past month. Apple announced the new Apple TV, the first refresh to the line since early 2012, and Google launched the new Chromecast this week, as well as a device with the ability to make any speaker with a 3.5mm input Wi-Fi enabled. (The Nexus Q is still dead.)
Google has also worked to make its online Google Store a standalone marketplace for its products. During its Nexus event Tuesday, Google execs stressed time and time again that their products were available untethered from any carrier or retailer on the Google Store, which admittedly looks better than it has in the past.
The Apple TV uses its own tvOS, carries name recognition, and held a 17 percent market share in 2014 despite not releasing a new model in nearly 3 years. Chromecast performed slightly better with a 19 percent share, but a mid-2013 release.
Bloomberg reports that the change to Amazon’s store will take effect on October 29.
So what does this mean for each company? Probably not a lot in the short term. Die-hard Chromecast and Apple TV fans will probably buy their devices on each company’s respective online stores. But Amazon is betting that its search engine optimization, and its customers’ lack of research into the market, will trump its competitors’ brand recognition in the long term. One thing seems certain—if Apple and Google were ever poised to allow Amazon’s Prime Instant Video app on their own streaming TV devices, they almost certainly aren’t anymore.