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Will Amazon announce an Apple TV competitor this week?

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Amazon (s AMZN) has invited the tech press to a mystery event in Los Angeles this Thursday, and it’s all but certain that it will unveil a new Kindle Fire tablet. However, the location of the announcement and its proximity to Hollywood has some speculating that there may be more. One of the possibilities being raised is more content for Amazon’s Prime Instant streaming service. Of course, there’s another option: What if Amazon announced a streaming video device to compete head-to-head with Apple (s AAPL) TV, Roku and Google (s GOOG) TV?

There has long been speculation that Amazon may be interested in building consumer electronics devices other than tablets and Kindles. But key hires in recent months indicate that the company is gearing up to replicate the success of its Kindle Fire with a living room device. Much of these efforts evolve around Lab126, Amazon’s secretive Bay Area R&D unit that is also in charge of the development of its Kindle products.

Lab126’s TV folks are working on “cool, secret stuff”

Is Amazon’s Lab126 looking to revolutionize the TV space?

Take Chris Painter for example. Painter co-founded the connected TV hardware startup GlideTV went on to work on Comcast’s (s CMCSK) next-generation set-top boxes. This spring, he got hired by Lab126 as a product manager. Or Kit Fitzpatrick, whose previous stints include a consulting job at TiVo, and a role in Sezmi’s set-top-box application team. Fitzpatrick started last November at Lab126, and professed on Linkedin that he is working on “cool, secret stuff…”

Then there is Randeep Singh Gakhal, who joined Lab126 in May as a software engineering manager and whose Linkedin profile states that he has “an innate passion for building innovative and high quality multimedia software.” Gakhal’s resume is impressive: Before Lab126, he worked as a software engineering manager at Netflix, (s NFLX) where his duties included “building the technical team responsible for delivering the Netflix experience on consumer electronics devices.” And before that, he worked four years at TiVo. Oh, and guess what? Gakhal is currently “working on a new, very large project and hiring great people.”

So this is where Logitech’s Google TV folks went…

The Revue Goole TV box was a disaster for Logitech, but the people who built it are getting a second chance at Amazon’s Lab126 unit.

Perhaps the most conclusive evidence that Amazon is in fact working on a TV product includes another group of recent hires. Lab126 has in the past few months been hiring a number of people from Logitech’s (s LOGI) Connected Home group. That’s the unit that built Logitech’s Google TV-based Revue set-top box. For Logitech, the Revue was a colossal flop: Sales were far below expectations, and the whole adventure cost the company over $100 million, forcing then-CEO Gerald Quindlen to resign.

But Amazon could profit greatly from the lessons these folks learned when building the Logitech Revue, as they could help the company repeat its Kindle Fire success story in the living room. Build a Fire TV after succeeding with a Kindle Fire, if you will. The Kindle Fire is based on a forked version of Android, which has been stripped of all Google apps, reskinned with a customized UI and outfitted with access to Amazon’s own Android app store.

That same approach would also work for the TV space: Google TV is based on Android, and companies like Netflix, HBO (s TWX) and Pandora (s P) have been building TV-screen-optimized Android apps specifically for that device. Those very same apps could also run on an Android-based Amazon TV device, and Amazon could complement these offerings with a full-blown app for its own Prime Instant service – something that Google TV is still lacking.

When would we see this ship?

Of course, there’s also a possibility that Lab126 is simply doing exploratory R&D work on living room consumer electronics devices, and that none of this will ever see the light of day. But there are other hints that Amazon has bigger plans for its Google TV, Netflix and Comcast veterans: Scouring the unit’s current job postings reveals a lot of hardware design and component sourcing specialists, but few offerings spell out the exact purpose of these jobs. Some hint at embedded devices, while others vaguely talk about a “multi-platform product,” which could hint at an integration of the Kindle Fire with a TV platform.

Does that mean that Amazon will necessarily announce a TV product this week? Of course not, and the date of some of the hires in this space may suggest that the company is still at least a few months away from shipping anything to consumers. So we might not actually hear any official word on a possible Fire TV for some time. Speaking of which: Amazon didn’t respond to a request for comment for this story.

Then again, it’s possible that Amazon could give the tech press in Los Angeles a first peek at its TV plans, just to dissuade consumers from buying into any competing platform this holiday season, and then make a bigger splash at CES next year. It certainly looks like Amazon has the talent to pull it off.

Check out my e-book Cut the Cord: All You Need to Know to Drop Cable to learn more about Google TV, Apple TV, Roku & Co.

Image courtesy of (CC-BY-SA) Flickr user joe.ross.

7 Responses to “Will Amazon announce an Apple TV competitor this week?”

  1. The Revue was not a collosal flop in terms of its basic abilities to mix Android app execution with incoming HDMI video. It is a Blueprint of something remarkable.
    It hinted at the collosal leap in technologial potential that this technology holds.
    What lacked for Logitech was the user install experience (not everyone had a HDMI equipped Set Top Box as TV tuner and/or a HDMI input TV set. Logitech ran a quirky install flow that required a working Internet connection. And the inability for U.S viewers to watch some channels they know and love caused anger and disappointment and continue to plauge review reports of all launched GTV TV sets so far. A major showstopper issue is that some premier channel providers block Goocle TV since they find no place in its revenue ecosystem. But no one, I say no one should find grounds to ignore the power of Android applications being able to stream video in 1080p AND at the same time be able to interact with the person viewing and the video material being rendered at the same time as having full Internet access. This is soo hot and yet few see the potential. So the Revue holds the treasure map to immense rewards for developers and business people in symbiosis who form the right combo to see the potential and be able to bring about a change to where everyone will find their revenue share from an ecosystem.
    – Where premium content providers come rushing to join the movement.
    – Where TV consumers stand in line outside shops to buy the gear.
    – Where developers can´t wait to develop yet richer facets of how channel apps enrichen the viewer experience.

  2. paul martin

    Maybe I am previous but no sign of TV time at Amazon, unless you count a HDMI port. No as Logie Baird discovered its not the TV that’s important, not the Automated Home (or whatever marketing term you wish to apply) its the persisting experience cf Sky in the UK, Fox-News, …. No one was engaged by the aging exec line-up that Eric put together on stage to part launch Google TV ….

    Here in the downtown part of the Oil capital of Europe I have yet to see one of the zillions of for sale TVs switched on app mode, I also seem to see less people head-down on smaller smart-tvs as the youth of today rediscover each other.

  3. Andy Markley

    None of this matters if closed captioning isn’t provided in the first place.

    Hulu, iTunes and Netflix are the only game in town that caption their shows with some regularity.

    Emails to other video streaming providers usually get this response: “We’re working on it.”

    Not good enough. For any service to wholly succeed and embed itself in the mainstream psyche, they have to have CCs in the first place.