Despite Amazon’s lofty ambitions to reimagine the multimedia center, its Fire TV streaming box entered the streaming-video fray earlier this month with a frustrating, fractured search engine. Amazon is taking some steps to fix the Fire’s flaws—but so far it’s not close to solving its biggest problems.
True, Amazon customer reviews of the device are generally positive—five-star reviews account for roughly for almost half of nearly 2,400 reviews so far; the average review is 3.9 stars out of five. The Fire TV also ranks first in Amazon’s list of best-selling electronics products; Google’s Chromecast is #2.
But the device’s poor search experience was, in my opinion, the most frustrating aspect of the Fire TV. The good news is that Amazon looks to improve on that over the next few months. On Thursday, the retail giant announced the Fire TV will expand its voice-search capability to more channels such as Hulu Plus, Crackle and Showtime Anytime. Currently, Vevo is the only third-party service to integrate its full catalogue into Fire TV’s unified voice search, which users can access via a microphone in the Fire TV’s remote control.
Amazon also touted a number of coming attractions for Fire TV. One feature, “Prime Browse,” will show you which movies and TV shows are available on the company’s Prime Instant Video service, which provides “free” streaming of some movie and TV offerings for Amazon Prime subscribers. It’s also promising to add Amazon MP3, the company’s free music app for Android, to the device.
Amazon is apparently still working toward release of its FreeTime parental-control function. And it continues to tout plans for “more games” on top of the 100 available titles from developers like Sega, Double Fine, Disney and its own Amazon Game Studios.
What Amazon Is Still Missing
Despite all these planned improvements, the Fire TV’s overall experience still needs a lot of work. Voice-search support for a few new channels is certainly welcome—but there’s still no sign that voice search will extend to Netflix, the most popular streaming service out there. (Note: Netflix confirmed on Monday it will support Voice Search “later this year.”)
And Amazon still hasn’t fixed the Fire TV’s biggest search problem: Fire TV owners must still search each video channel separately. That’s right—there’s still no way to look for a particular TV show or movie across all the channels you can stream on the device. The Fire TV badly needs a unified search engine that can offer consumers a better way to find and stream programs—one that doesn’t just recommend shows for purchase or rental through Amazon when a search comes up empty, as the Fire TV does now.
Half-baked search notwithstanding, Fire TV still has a lot going for it—a giant ecosystem of games, movies, shows and music from Amazon, a super speedy interface, intelligent options for kids’ programming and gaming, and a collection of streaming channels that will only grow over time. It’ll even feature a number of exclusive original series from Amazon Studios, which could put it on equal footing with Netflix—except that Netflix doesn’t own any proprietary hardware.
But as I mentioned in my Fire TV review, speed and openness mean little when the glue that holds everything together—search—is garbage. It’s still an arduous task to find the programs you’re looking for on Fire TV, and frankly, it’s not fun.
And while it’s true that no other streaming device has really solved the universal search problem either, very few of the Fire’s competitors have promised the mind-blowing streaming-video experience Amazon touted for the Fire TV. It’s time for Amazon to put its money where its search is.
Lead image by Dave Smith for ReadWrite