It comes down to two things: Price, and simplicity. And if you don’t lead the way in both, you’ll give way to those who do.
A report out this week from analysts Parks Associates says that more than a third of streaming devices in use today don’t come one of the major companies you’d expect. Not Apple. Not Google.
That’s more than half the market owned by Roku and Amazon. And that shouldn’t surprise anyone. What it comes down to are simplicity and price.
Let’s start with simplicity. Parks Associates notes that Chromecast — which definitely has the price thing nailed at $35 — is at 18 percent. But while I’d reckon most of us reading anything at Android Central have little problem with that little Cast button, the little HDMI dongle still requires some explanation. “Wait — I have to use my phone, but my phone isn’t actually streaming anything?” I get it. But I also say it’s easier to just live entirely within a streaming box.
(That Parks Associates doesn’t spell out in the summary whether we’re actually talking about the Chromecast device itself, or all the streamers that can use the Cast protocol — including every Android TV box, and Roku, and Amazon’s Fire TV — is a fairly gaping hole, though. Same goes for the accompanying graphic, which clearly screws up the proportions.)
Then there’s Apple, which fell to 15 percent for the quarter. Apple TV is really good — even if it’s limited to 1080p (Roku and Amazon both do 4K resolution) and is easy to use. But a current-generation Apple TV starts at $149, whereas Roku and Amazon each have a stick that costs $39. That’s a full box experience for less than it costs to take your family to a half-decent dinner.
And that’s the ballgame.
I’ve said before that Roku is the best streaming device for most folks, especially for the value you get. Amazon’s Fire TV is a really close second. And let’s repeat the price: You can get either for $39. Why would most folks even consider something else? I still prefer Android TV and Apple TV over both of them, though, but those generally come at a much higher price.
My argument would be that more money almost always equals more powerful hardware, and that’s definitely the case here. The NVIDIA Shield TV is ridiculously powerful, and Apple TV is no slouch either. If you’re to want to do some gaming, you’re going to want to look that direction. But if you just want a basic way to watch some shows, the sticks from Roku and Amazon work just fine.
When you’re moving to streaming content, you balance cost versus usability. Cable TV is better and easier. But usually, it’s way more expensive.
And as long as Roku and Amazon keep making “good enough” as affordable as they have been, the likes of Google and Apple are going to have to get used to living outside the top spots.