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Amazon launches Fire TV set-top box

Amazon has launched its TV streaming device, Amazon Fire TV

Amazon has launched its TV streaming device, Amazon Fire TV

Amazon has launched its much-anticipated TV streaming device, Amazon Fire TV, taking on the likes of Apple TV and Roku with its own internet-connect set-top.

Available to order now in the US, the small US$ 99 (€72) box makes it easy for viewers to access Amazon’s Prime Instant Video service from their TVs – as well services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Watch ESPN and Showtime.

Among the features of the device is voice search, which users can activate by pressing a button and speaking into their remote. The box can also be paired with an Amazon Fire Game Controller, letting users play video games from major firms including EA, Disney and Ubisoft.

“Tiny box, huge specs, tons of content, incredible price—people are going to love Fire TV,” said Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos. “Our open approach gives you not just Amazon Instant Video and Prime Instant Video, but also Netflix, Hulu Plus, and more. On Fire TV you can watch Alpha House and House of Cards.”

Amazon claims that the set-top includes a quad-core processor that has three times the processing power of Apple TV, Chromecast, or Roku 3 devices.

It also comes with 2GB of memory – four times the memory of these rivals, allowing content to load faster and games to run smoother, according to Amazon.

At launch Amazon said that the device will offer more than 200,000 movies and TV episodes from Amazon Instant Video alone. More than 100 games are also available with “thousands more” coming in the next month.

A feature called ASAP (Advanced Streaming and Prediction) will also help to predict which movies and TV episodes viewers will want to watch and pre-buffers them for playback so that they will start instantly.

Users can also use Amazon Fire TV to view their own photos and personal videos on their TV, and to access music streaming services like Pandora, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn.

Fire TV is being powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor and supports 1080p HD video as well as 7.1 Dolby surround sound.

ATandT Activates Text-To-Donate Campaign For Detwiler Fire Relief

MARIPOSA, Calif. To help those impacted by the Detwiler Wildfire in Mariposa County, CA , and other California wildfires, ATandamp;T1 has activated its Text-to-Donate Campaign. Wireless customers can make a $ 10 donation to assist those affected by texting REDCROSS to 90999 to support the American Red Cross. Customers can text up to five times for a total donation of $ 50 . ATandamp;T won’t charge any fees for texting to donate. Customers will see their donation on their monthly ATandamp;T bill. ATandamp;T donates 100 percent of the proceeds to the American Red Cross.andnbsp; Click here for more.

Cellular News

Austrian spectrum auction comes under fire

auction11Industry experts have attacked the recent Austrian LTE spectrum auction process, arguing that the outcome took too much money out of the market and threatens competition in the Austrian mobile sector. That incumbent Telekom Austria was able to acquire half of all the spectrum made available could be particularly detrimental.

TA announced Monday that it had won four blocks of 800MHz spectrum, three blocks at 900MHz and seven at 1800MHz, giving it a 2 x 140MHz allocation in total for a price of €1.03bn. But second placed T-Mobile took only 2 x 45MHz and 3 Austria just 2 x 25MHz. The auction raised more than €2bn overall, a good deal more than the Austrian government had set as an acceptable minimum—€526m.

Bengt Norström of Swedish consultancy Northstream said the result was an illustration of “the insanity of auctions”, favouring the player with the strongest legacy business and greatest capacity for investment. The Austrian regulator’s original intention to bring in a new player could never have been met, he said, suggesting that the high price might prove a barrier to network investment.

Meanwhile Stefan Zehle, CEO of Coleago Consulting, which specializes in spectrum policy, said that demand for 1800MHz spectrum in Europe means that “governments can hold a gun to operators’ heads and demand almost any price.” Telekom Austria now holds 53.8 per cent of the sub-1GHz spectrum in the market, despite having a market share of less than 40 per cent, he said.

He also suggested that Hutchison’s 3 had been victim to inconsistencies in Austrian spectrum policy. The third placed operator faced constraints on its investment due to having the weakest cashflow, he said.

“The design of the Austrian auction and the absence of effective caps on sub 1GHz spectrum holdings suggest that the Austrian government is not particularly concerned about the effects of spectrum concentration on competition. On the other hand, the spectrum divesture conditions imposed on Hutchison to clear its acquisition of One Austria [Orange], suggests a very different view of spectrum concentration is applied when it comes to approving in-market consolidation.”

Nordström concurred, saying: “It’s important to make sure that the operators are on a level playing field in terms of access to lower and higher bands. Nothing has been done to safeguard the continued existence of competition.”

While Telekom Austria said that it had acquired “unique strategic advantages” as a result of the auction, 3 Austria’s CEO Jan Trionow described it as a “disaster for the industry.”

Red-Hot Kindle Fire Blazes its Way to Second Place in Media Tablet Market

Just two weeks after its introduction, Amazon’s Kindle Fire already is shaking up the market, with the device expected to surpass all other iPad rivals to take second place in the global media tablet business in the fourth quarter. Click here for more.


IoT Will Fire up the Next Generation of Engineers Says ARM and UCL

ARM is partnering with UCL (University College London) to launch a new education kit aimed at developing students’ Internet of Things (IoT) technical skills. Click here for more.


Amazon has made its Fire smartphone too expensive

Why should we buy the Amazon Fire instead of another flagship smartphone?

Why should we buy the Amazon Fire instead of another flagship smartphone?

Almost three years after Amazon got into the Android device game with the Kindle Fire, the giant etailer has finally decided to take the plunge into handsets with a smartphone simply named Fire. The Fire has many novel features but the main point of it, surely, is to encourage as many people to conduct as much m-commerce as possible through Amazon. So the decision to position it as a high-end device is strange.

The Fire will initially launch exclusively with AT&T in the US and the 32GB version will cost $ 199.99 on-contract or $ 649.99 SIM-free. To put this into context that’s exactly the same price as an iPhone 5s, a Samsung Galaxy S5, an HTC One (M8) and most other flagship smartphones on AT&T. It must be noted, however, that the Fire comes with 32GB of storage while the other flagship smartphones start at 16GB of storage. At current exorbitant embedded smartphone flash storage rates that equates to $ 100 of bonus flash, which is not insignificant.

Comparing other hardware specs, it has a 4.7-inch screen, which is currently considered the minimum for flagship smartphones (with one exception, and that’s expected to get into line sometime in Q3), and the screen resolution is 315 PPI, which is less than most of its competitors. The Snapdragon 800 SoC is powerful, but slightly less so than the 801 found in the Samsung and HTC equivalents and the 13MP, 1080p rear camera is competitive.

But the mere fact that we’re comparing prices and specs with other flagship smartphones is the problem. Amazon managed to grab a nice early chunk of market share when it launched the Kindle Fire by effectively selling it at cost, or less. Amazon’s business is retail, not products, and it only makes products, such as the Kindle, as a tool for generating more retail business, such as e-books. If the aim is to get the Fire into the hands of as many consumers as possible, then why make it so expensive?

Especially since the Fire is not about the hardware anyway. The OS is essentially the same forked version of Android you find in the Kindle Fire, although a new feature is something called “dynamic perspective”, which is a kind of 3D effect that gives you a slightly different view of an object if you tilt the phone, apparently. Tilting also allows some degree of navigation, such as scrolling, although it’s still not clear why that’s preferable to good old thumb navigation.

The signature feature, however, is called Firefly. This uses the rear camera to identify real objects, and even the microphone for real sounds, and then offer up more information or, critically, an buy link. This technology already exists, of course, with apps like Google Goggles and Shazam, but Amazon has unified it and integrated it into a seamless buying experience apparently designed to make impulse purchasing even more… impulsive. To further entice people into trying to buy everything they see or hear, Amazon has even included a special hard button to launch you instantly into retail heaven.

That’s all fine, of course you expect a piece of Amazon hardware to be geared towards optimising the Amazon experience, but the flip side of this Faustian pact is supposed to be a low price. You accept the device’s constant inducements to spend money on Amazon as a trade-off for the bargain price of the device. But Amazon seems to have decided that $ 100 of extra flash, and an introductory annual subscription to Amazon Prime, are sufficient compensation for your immortal soul. We don’t.

But perhaps we missed the point. So we checked in with Neil Mawston, Executive Director at researcher Strategy Analytics and he pretty much agreed. Amazon’s Fire smartphone is a mild disappointment. Retail pricing is on the high side, its hardware design is unexciting, the apps ecosystem is relatively limited, and the number of carriers stocking the device for the first-generation model is tiny,” said Mawston.

He makes a good point about the app ecosystem. Because Fire OS is a forked version of Android, it doesn’t get access to the Play Store, which is another concession Amazon is asking of its punters. “Amazon’s Fire smartphone has a modest apps ecosystem, and no direct access to the huge Android Play store,” said Mawston. “Amazon will struggle to convince app power-users to switch from the full-fat experience of Apple or Samsung to the low-fat experience of Amazon Fire.”

We are also in agreement on the Firefly app, and it’s worth noting just how much of a further threat this makes Amazon to bricks-and-mortar retail, as now people can just take a look at a product in-store and potentially buy it online for less with just a couple of clicks. “The Firefly app looks interesting,” said Mawston. “High-street retailers, like Tesco or BestBuy, will be worried because Firefly will accelerate the trend towards showrooming. Browsing offline, but buying online.”

To summarise, Amazon’s big move to help it dominate m-commerce as much as it already does e-commerce is the launch of a high-end smartphone with insufficient unique value to compensate the end user for the concessions they have to make. The main question Amazon had to answer was: why should someone buy this phone instead of an iPhone, Galaxy S, etc? 3D effects and an Amazon button do not answer that question convincingly, but significantly better ‘bang-per-buck’ might have. As the first Android tablets found to their cost, if you want to take on the incumbents, merely mating them is rarely enough.