The last two weeks have been interesting ones for those interested in Android TV. That is in spite of what was essentially a lack of Android TV news. The last two weeks have seen two major announcements and none of them have been Android TV oriented. However, what they have been about, is how there is suddenly competitors to the platform and that is interesting. For so long now, the Android TV platform has been trucking along with not much to worry about or phase it. The upside to this, is that manufacturers and Google have had time to bring their products to market, iron out any major kinks and generally establish Andorid TV at a steadier pace. The downside to this, is that from the end-user experience, the platform has been slowly developing, products have taken their time in rolling out, updates have been slow coming and apps becoming compatible have slowly arrived.
That said, everything changed in the last two weeks. Last week saw Apple release their living room product, the Apple TV and while it seems to provide no hardware rival for the top tier Android TV products, it does offer an alternative. More specifically, competition. Then, this week saw the announcement coming from Amazon in regards to their next-gen Fire TV device, the Fire TV 2015. And this is where things get a little more trickier. Amazon's Fire TV does run on Android, it is not Android TV and it is not even a lightly skinned version of Android, but it is Android nonetheless and you can run most of your apps on it, like you would Android TV.
You see, hardware-wise is not where the Fire TV is likely to make its biggest impact. Although, there is nothing wrong with the hardware. The Fire TV does comes sporting 2GB RAM (upgrade from last year), a 64-bit Quad-core MediaTek processor (upgrade from last year) and comes with 8GB internal storage and the ability to expand thanks to the inclusion of a microSD card slot. So straight off the bat, it is better than the Nexus Player, Forge TV and a number of built-in Android TV options. Yes, it does not rival the NVIDIA SHIELD on paper, but that is not an issue for Amazon. Instead, where Amazon is likely to make an impact with the Fire TV, is at the software level.
First off, the Fire TV does come sporting support for 4K streaming. It is only at 30 FTPS ("only" as the SHIELD offers 4K at 60FPS) but Amazon has one thing up their sleeve which no Android TV device (including the SHIELD) can argue with – Amazon Prime Instant Video. This has been a touchy subject in the Android TV world as Amazon seem to point blank refuse to make Instant Video compatible with Android TV. As such, if video is your thing, then you are looking at a 4K streaming device which runs both Netflix and Instant Video. That's pretty good. Then there is the whole Amazon Appstore. While the Amazon Appstore does receive criticism for not being as quick to update apps/games as the Play Store and does lock a number of their triple A titles down, if you pick up a Fire TV, you will be one of those privy to the Fire range exclusive games. Not to mention, if Amazon has Amazon Underground working on the Fire TV (which must be on the horizon), then you are looking at a ton of content for free (barring some ads).
So you see, while Apple TV battles Android TV in the straight out operating system wars, the arrival of Fire TV, at this moment in time, heightens the battle within Android for your TV. Amazon will be battling Google's offerings on the software front and is likely to offer a lot of value for the money, as long as you don't mind being pushed toward Amazon's services and features.
So why is this good for Android TV? Well, it's simple. Android TV has had plain sailing until now, but now, the competition is here and this is only likely to fuel Android TV as a platform. As Apple and Amazon both push to increase their market share, Android TV will have to fight back by getting quicker updates, better selection of content and generally a more active approach to the end-user. If not, you can be sure Amazon and Apple will both be looking to pick up disgruntled Android TV users. Now, thanks to Apple and Amazon, 2016 suddenly looks to be a much better year for Android TV. Not to mention, the possibility of the next-gen Nexus Player already being rumored.