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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”
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…
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.