One of the more interesting battles in the smart home is how companies plan to leverage their position in the living room as part of their broader smart home vision.
Apple and Amazon both clearly see their footholds here as important ones, with each company, to varying degrees, starting to lay out arguments (from a technology, if not positioning, perspective) for why their TV boxes could conceivably make for very capable smart home hubs.
For Apple's part, the new Apple TV has largely been positioned as a TV-first proposition, at least to this point. Perhaps they learned a lesson from Microsoft's rollout of the Xbox One, one of the more confused messes in terms of market positioning as there has been in recent history (Is it a game console? A futuristic set-top? What is Kinect again?). Despite the initial foot forward by Apple here, make no mistake, the Apple TV has all the technical underpinnings to be a really interesting smart home device with HomeKit integration, Siri and more. But, as with all things Apple and smart home, the vision will be rolled slowly and deliberately.
In the Fire TV, Amazon has an interesting device, but one that is almost an afterthought compared to another device in their smart home arsenal, the Echo. But let's call the Echo what it is: a clever vessel for Alexa and a smart home connection layer for it's own storefront, third party services and connected devices in the home. Fire TV has really been positioned fairly straightforward, as a low-cost streamer and Amazon Video storefront. (Interesting side note: Echo and Fire TV were developed by the same hardware team at Lab 126, but the Fire TV used a third party voice control technology, while the Echo used Amazon's own technology in Alexa - built with a combination of acquisition and internal development - for the Echo).
But now, with this week's news that Fire TV's latest OS uses Alexa, it makes things a bit more interesting. Next to the arrival of apps, the possibility of what you could do with Siri has always been the most intriguing thing about the new Apple TV, and now with Alexa heading to Fire TV, it puts these devices on par in terms of voice control and virtual assistant technology.
In the end, however, I still sense some reticence from both companies when it comes to smart home. Apple is definitely smart home curious, but I'm not entirely sure there's complete buy in. All of it feels almost like a hedge. With Amazon, I think the buy in is there, but as you'd expect from the western world's biggest e-commerce site, every strategy here is measured against how much they can increase the total spend through things like Amazon Prime, which naturally puts efforts like Dash Replenishment as a higher priority against less direct routes to monetization like adding smart home capabilities to its TV streamer.
Bottom line: 2016 will be an interesting year to watch how both companies flesh out their smart home vision in the living room.