If you thought that the marriage of voice assistants and TVs were just a flash in the pan and likely to follow the same fate as 3D, think again. Here at CES 2020, Amazon has outlined its growing ambitions for both its Alexa voice assistant and its Alexa-compatible Fire TV streaming platform — and they’re vast. Not only will 2020 be the year that hands-free Alexa comes to major TV brands as a built-in feature, but we’ll also see the Fire TV platform emerge as a true competitor to Roku’s Roku TV OS, for TV makers that want an easy way to embed streaming smarts without building an experience from scratch.
LG has already announced that its latest OLED and NanoCell TVs will include hands-free voice commands. However, it would have been easy to miss a related announcement: These new models will have Amazon Alexa Premium Far-Field Voice compatibility in the future, which means you’ll be able to leave the remote parked on the coffee table (or more likely wedged between the couch cushions) and simply ask Alexa to change the channel or start streaming a show. Samsung and Skyworth will also be announcing new TV models with Alexa built-in.
Fire TV Edition is the name Amazon uses to refer to the version of Fire TV that manufacturers can embed in their products. If you see a TV, soundbar or other device that includes Amazon Fire TV (and Amazon didn’t make it), that device uses Fire TV Edition. The platform has already proven incredibly successful: BestBuy has sold millions of Fire TV Edition TVs by Insignia and Toshiba so far, after announcing the products in 2018. Now, Amazon plans to expand Fire TV Edition to more than 150 device models, in 10 countries, by the end of 2020.
These devices will be the usual suspects, like smart TVs and smart soundbars — Anker released the first Fire TV soundbar in 2019 with its Anker Nebula Soundbar. TCL has also joined the smart soundbar party: Its goes on sale today in the U.S. and Canada. Polk Audio is also working on a Fire TV Edition soundbar, according to Amazon. You can expect these Fire TV soundbars to become a lot more capable in 2020 — Amazon is expanding what these devices can do, with support for Dolby Atmos, 3rd-party device control, HDMI switching, and, of course, hands-free Alexa via far-field mics on the way. Some of these new Fire TV Edition soundbars may have capabilities to match Amazon’s own Fire TV Cube.
With Fire TV Edition for Operators, Amazon is going to make it considerably easier for cable and satellite companies to offer a customized streaming experience for customers. Amazon tells us it is working with partners like Tata Sky and Verizon to build customized, co-branded experiences on Fire TV devices like the Fire TV Cube and Fire TV Stick 4K. It could be a big boost for these companies as they seek ways to keep their customers from cutting the cord entirely.
Amazon also wants to make Fire TV mobile: Its Fire TV Edition for Auto brings the streaming platform to in-car entertainment systems. BMW and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will be the first automakers to embed Fire TV Edition into their vehicles. The platform will take advantage of hands-free Alexa voice commands and can connect to streaming content through in-vehicle Wi-Fi over LTE, or via a smartphone’s built-in hot spot. We’re not entirely sure how BMW and Fiat Chrysler will prevent these new entertainment options from becoming yet another source of distraction for drivers, but then again, as we head toward an increasingly driverless future, that might not be as big of a problem in another five years.
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Updated on January 7: An earlier version of this article included an inaccurate description of Fire TV Edition for Operators. The program creates customized versions of Amazon’s own devices, not third-party devices.
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