Amazon to Introduce Set-Top Box, Smartphone: Reports

Amazon, ever expanding its empire, reportedly plans to introduce a Chromecast-like set-top box in April and a smartphone later this year.

Amazon warehouse

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos originally considered calling his company, and it's hard to think of a more spot-on title. According to recent rumors, the company that seemingly already sells everything is planning to put its name on and offer two more items: a video-streaming set-top box and a smartphone.

The set-top box would compete against products from Apple, Google (whose Chromecast is an Amazon top-seller) and Roku. In addition, the set-top box would help Amazon grab viewers from Netflix, Hulu and other streaming-content sites.

Amazon has escalated its efforts to attract viewers by creating original content (a la Netflix and its hit "House of Cards") and even shooting pilot series and letting customers vote on which should be turned into full series. (My fingers are crossed for "Transparent.") Yahoo, after the same eyeballs, is also creating original content.

Having its own hardware through which to stream its considerable trove of movie and television offerings would give Amazon access to the additional ad revenue that currently goes to its partners.

The set-top box, which will arrive in early April, will be available through Amazon, of course, but also Best Buy and Staples, The Wall Street Journal reported March 17. The report added that the product, which has been in development since last April, will ship with a remote control.

TechCrunch reports that the product will take the form of a dongle, like Chromecast, and that Amazon may distinguish itself by using it, not only to stream video, but also games, positioning Amazon to also compete with consoles such as the Xbox and PlayStation.

"Offering streaming gaming would provide a huge competitive advantage over its rivals in the set-top box space, both large and small … Plus, if added in as an Amazon Prime member benefit, the e-commerce company could have yet another incentive to get users on board with its premium products," wrote TechCrunch. "Plus, it could plug into the recently leaked Amazon gaming controller, despite the fact that the device is said to be sold independently of any set-top box and compatible with Kindle Fire tablets, too."

According to The Journal, the device will also use the Fire name.

As for the smartphone, it's been rumored for some time that Amazon was in talks with HTC, to create a branded device (just as Samsung and others have created phones for Google).

On March 13, The Information reported that plans have progressed, and the phone—code-named "Project Aria"—could go on sale this year in China, European markets, and possibly Latin America and the United States.

George Packer, in his February profile of Amazon in The New Yorker (the source of the tidbit) sums up, or rather introduces, Amazon's ambitions this way:

"Amazon's identity and goals are never clear and always fluid, which makes the company destabilizing and intimidating. …

"Amazon's shape-shifting, engulfing quality, its tentacles extending in all directions, makes it unusual even in the tech industry, where rapid growth, not profitability, is the measure of success. Amazon is not just the 'Everything Store,' to quote the title of Brad Stone's rich chronicle of Bezos and his company; it's more like the Everything. What remains constant is ambition, and the search for new things to be ambitious about."

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