Bloomberg: Amazon Set-Top Box Coming Fall 2013

Brad Stone, Bloomberg Businessweek:

Amazon (AMZN) is making e-readers, tablets and will likely soon introduce a smartphone. As it works to build all types of connected devices, that leaves a natural next step: a television set-top box. The e-commerce giant is planning to introduce a device this fall dedicated to streaming video over the Internet and into its customers’ living rooms, according to three people familiar with the project who aren’t authorized to discuss it.
They say the box will plug into TVs and give users access to Amazon’s expanding video offerings. Those include its a la carte Video on Demand store, which features newer films and TV shows, and its Instant Video service, which is free for subscribers to the Amazon Prime two-day shipping package. The Amazon set-top box will compete with similar products like the Roku, Apple TV and the Boxee Cloud DVR, along with more versatile devices like the Playstation 3 and the Xbox. An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment.

Given Netflix's high-flying performance and positive press this week, the timing of this rumor's arrival is certainly not unintentional.

First things first, Amazon's on-demand video service is a fringe offering at best. It's integrated selectively with television and mobile devices, available most beneficially only to Prime members, and lacks some of its competitors' ambitious content partnerships. Simply put, Amazon's offering simply does not strike me as holding critical value or awareness.

Obviously, though, Amazon's invested in providing a window onto its storefront in whatever capacity possible. Furthermore, in the case of Amazon, they're not simply providing streaming, but also video purchasing. So, in an environment primarily characterized by devices like the Apple TV, Roku, and Xbox 360, I can certainly understand the lure of a hardware device wherein it can control end-to-end purchasing and the like.

Also, unlike Netflix, Amazon is selling an ecosystem. Thus, it is naturally precluded from the Apple TV and its interactions are difficult on a great many mobile devices. Accordingly, producing a proprietary product makes some sense.

Still, regardless of the inherent logic and rationale, I'm skeptical concerning the long-term viability and value of an Amazon-branded set-top box. Although Amazon is largely uninterested in margins and would, therefore, likely be fine with mediocre sales of its product, I cannot avoid the thought that such a device would be arriving at an extraordinarily transparent "me too!" moment.

Amazon's original programming is reportedly "terrible" and its media library is poorly differentiated from those of Apple, Microsoft, or virtually anyone else. On top of that, Roku — and others — already provide a robust window onto the Amazon ecosystem.

In releasing their own box, it'd be framed as a move against Apple, but I think the greatest victim would be Roku. Traditionally, Amazon has heavily promoted Roku — a smaller, more agile firm. Accordingly, Roku has become the de facto device for those wishing to interact with Amazon services. In this move, Amazon would sacrifice such a partnership, whilst ostensibly starting from scratch in the world of devices and media clout.

Of course, this would presumably allow Amazon to sell more media without any notable detractions. But is the business reasoning — "We might as well?" — sound? I'm skeptical.

So, as I say, perhaps the move makes sense in terms of gaining direct branding in the living room, but I fail to recognize the true differentiating potential and allure of such a device over its competition. Of course this is little more than unsubstantiated rumor at this stage. So, it'll be interesting to see what Amazon might provide should this product make it to market.

(Beyond "terrible" shows, that is.)

Apple's September 12 Event All But Confirmed

Rene Ritchie:

iMore has learned that Apple is planning to debut the new iPhone at a special event on Wednesday, September 12, 2012, with the release date to follow 9 days later on Friday, September 21. This information comes from sources who have proven accurate in the past.

The iPad mini will be announced at the same September 12 event, as will the new iPod nano. We haven’t heard a release date for the iPad mini yet, but it could be the same as the iPhone 5. It seems likely the new iPod touch will make an appearance on September 12 as well, though we haven’t heard any specific information about that yet either.

Mr. Dalrymple has lent his trademark confirmation to the former paragraph concerning the iPhone, as have The New York Times, AllThingsD, and The Verge. No confirmations have been made regarding the latter iPad Mini portion.

WSJ: Next iPhone Has Thinner In-Cell Display Technology


Juro Osawa and Lorraine Luk:

Apple Inc.’s next iPhone, currently being manufactured by Asian component makers, will use a new technology that makes the smartphone’s screen thinner, people familiar with the matter said, as the U.S. technology giant strives to improve technological features amid intensifying competition from Samsung Electronics Co. and other rivals.

[…] The technology integrates touch sensors into the LCD, making it unnecessary to have a separate touch-screen layer. The absence of the layer, usually about half a millimeter thick, not only makes the whole screen thinner, but the quality of displayed images would improve, said DisplaySearch analyst Hiroshi Hayase.

Considering how close the display already feels on the existing iPhone, I can only imagine such a rumored display would make quite an impression upon the user. Furthermore, the prospect is certainly within the bounds of plausibility, insofar as all rumors concerning the future iPhone have described it as being a much thinner device.

That said, as the rumor mill begins to pick up its pace ahead of the future iPhone’s unveiling, it’s perhaps a prudent time to provide a cautionary word regarding expectations.

When it comes to matters of rumor and conjecture, I tend to ignore the vast majority of outlets with the notable exception of The Wall Street Journal. Well placed for corporate leaks, the venerable publication has been historically proven largely accurate in its investigative reporting, particularly when it comes to Apple. Thus, although this rumor is unsubstantiated, I tend to consider it with a much higher-regard than I might if it were to come from a different publication.

Still, despite the credibility of the WSJ, there’s certainly no cause for any semblance of over-excited hyperbole concerning the viability of such display panels. We’re still, presumably, several months away from the unveiling of the future iPhone, plenty can change between now and then.

WSJ: Amazon Testing Smartphone


Lorraine Luk: Inc. is working with component suppliers in Asia to test a smartphone, people familiar with the situation said, suggesting that the Internet retail giant, which sells the Kindle Fire tablet computers, is considering broadening its mobile-device offerings.

Officials at some of Amazon’s parts suppliers, who declined to be named, said the Seattle-based company is testing a smartphone and mass production of the new device may start late this year or early next year.

[…]One person said that the screen of Amazon’s smartphone currently being tested measures between four and five inches.

Thus, with nary a moment of hesitation, the Wall Street Journal has confirmed last week’s Bloomberg report.

With regard to the oft-rumored Amazon phone itself, the sole element of concern I have for Amazon’s future as a hardware manufacturer resides with its use (or misuse) of its own Lab126 division. Lab126 has held the responsibility for the entirety of Amazon’s e-ink Kindle line — both in terms of hardware and software — since its inception. With the Kindle Fire, however, Amazon evidently viewed its entry into the tablet space as less of an investment and more of an experiment, thereby foregoing thorough Lab126 development.

Considering the Kindle Fire sits atop Amazon’s all time best-selling products, I would imagine the experiment has proceeded rather successfully. Thus, with the viability of an Amazon-branded tablet in mind, it seems fair to presume that Amazon’s forthcoming sequel to the Kindle Fire will be developed internally. With Lab126 developing the entirety of the product equation, my general inclination would broach cautious optimism for the impending tablet — much more than I would’ve otherwise.

For all of this, with rumors swirling around the shrouded Amazon phone, I simply wish to express my sincere hope that Amazon does not repeat its Kindle Fire strategy. Amazon could easily adopt a basic hardware chassis — much like it did with the BlackBerry PlayBook’s enclosure for the Kindle Fire — and shoehorn its software into this environment. Problematically, however, such an endeavor is half-baked at best.

Heaping further concern onto the already significant pile, if the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg are to be believed, Amazon is shopping around in the Asian technology market for this product. Although this may well be for manufacturing purposes, the alternate possibility is that Amazon is embarking upon a similarly experimental project to the Kindle Fire. Lab126 is not mentioned in either article.

For the technology industry, June, 2012 marked a tidal shift in the binding developmental process beneath the marketplace. Both Microsoft and Google disregarded precedence in their respective niches within the tablet space and sought to develop their own hardware and software internally. Considering Amazon is working with its own off-brand version of Android, the commerce giant would do well to observe such a shift and embrace such a fundamental tenet of the newfound industrial hardware strategy.