How to Develop an App on Amazon Fire TV

Traditional TV has all but perished, and the devices reveling in their wake are streaming services and boxes–like Amazon Fire TV.

Driven by the desire for ad-free content on-demand, almost 70% of American households now have at least one subscription to a streaming service.

If you’re a Content Producer looking to capitalize on this growing trend, building an Amazon Fire TV app is a smart way to expand your viewership. In this article, we’ll guide you through the options and process for Amazon Fire TV app development.

What is Amazon Fire TV?

Amazon Fire TV is a digital media player that streams videos, games, and music to your television. It provides immediate access to over 500,000 movies and episodes across a vast collection of channels and applications, including Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Prime Video, and more. Users can also stream content from websites such as YouTube and Facebook, gain access to live sports, news, and even watch feature shows in stunning HD from channels like ESPN, HGTV, CNN, and AMC.

Amazon launched Fire TV in 2014, and since then has released several versions, including the FireTV Stick, FireTV Cube, and Fire TV Edition Television.

  • Amazon Fire TV Stick is a compact media device that looks similar to a USB drive. It connects directly into the HDMI port and essentially turns any regular TV into a smart TV. The basic edition comes with a dedicated remote and 1GB of memory for apps and games.
  • Amazon Fire TV Cube is the premium version which integrates voice control technology to deliver a “hands-free” entertainment experience for more convenience and control. While standing on the opposite side of the room, users can ask Alexa to play their favorite movie, and the Fire TV Cube will immediately turn on the TV and begin playing as requested.
  • Amazon Fire TV Edition Television is a smart TV loaded with Amazon’s Fire TV software. The newest version has an OLED screen and far-reaching microphones built-in for Alexa voice control.

Amazon Fire TV has an open ecosystem and invites anyone to create an app to share their content.

Why create a Fire TV App?

Amazon Fire TV is similar to all the other major streaming devices on the market today—like Roku, Chromecast, and Apple TV—so why should you choose a Fire TV app over the others?

Firstly, as of January 2020, Amazon Fire TV became the most popular streaming device in the United States when it surpassed Roku with 40 million active monthly users. That’s over 4 million more than the 36 million users Roku claimed in Q4 2019. Amazon Fire TV is showing no signs of slowing down either, with eMarketer forecasting the company will grow to 70 million viewers by 2021.

Although Amazon is currently leading the way in the streaming device space, Roku has always been a fierce competitor and may narrow the gap after releasing its numbers for Q1 2020. At one stage, Roku had the upper hand with its very own free movie and TV hub (The Roku Channel), but Amazon responded by leveraging its relationship with IMDb to launch its own free streaming service, IMDbTV. Currently, it appears U.S. consumers are migrating towards Amazon Fire TV due to the built-in virtual assistant Alexa. Either way, Fire TV and Roku are the clear industry frontrunners and should be the focus of every content creator looking to capitalize on the universal reach of streaming.

Related: roku channel: how to make one, how much it will cost, & how to monetize

A significant consideration when deciding on a streaming provider is the technical skills it requires for app development. For example, developing a custom Roku app requires an understanding of Roku’s proprietary coding language BrightScript and experience using SceneGraph framework.

Each model of Amazon Fire TV runs on the Fire OS software. The operating system is Android, meaning all apps that are compatible with Android are most likely compatible with Amazon Fire TV too. To check whether your app will run on Amazon Fire TV devices, simply drag and drop your Android APK into Amazon’s App Testing Service. You should receive compatibility results in under 90 seconds.

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How to create a Fire TV channel

Amazon offers several frameworks for building a Fire TV app. The method you choose will depend on a variety of factors:

  • Your skillset (Web developer, Java Developer, Content Developer)
  • Your preferred platform (Android or HTML5 Web-based app)
  • Your desired functionality and features (advertising, subscriptions, authentication, etc.)

Options for Amazon Fire TV App Development

To develop an Amazon Fire TV app, you can choose from the below methods:

  1. Custom Native Android App
  2. Fire App Builder
  3. Custom Web-based App

Method 1: Custom Android App:

When it comes to building a Fire TV app, Amazon highly recommends building a custom Android app with Android tools (like Android Studio and Android Frameworks). Not only does this provide content developers with more control over software updates and customization, but it also delivers a superior user experience.

Custom Android apps for Fire TV must utilize Amazon’s services, rather than Google services, and need to accommodate all Fire TV operating systems, including the Fire OS 5, 6 and 7. The company does provide sample code, documentation, and tutorials to facilitate the process. However, those who don’t have experience with Java, Kotlin or hybrid web apps will gain far better results by outsourcing their app development to a professional developer.

Method 2: Fire App Builder:

Fire App Builder is an open-source Java-based framework created by Amazon specifically for building Fire TV apps. It is similar to utilizing a template built over the Android tools.

According to Amazon Appstore, the Fire App Builder allows you to create an engaging, high-quality Android app in less than 1 hour with minimal coding experience, however we feel that some knowledge or research will be likely to achieve optimum results. Additionally, you will need to have a firm grasp on standard Android development tools such as Android Studio and Gradle.

Method 3: Custom Web App

If you want to build a custom web app, it’s best to seek the assistance of an experienced HTML5 developer. You can also leverage the Amazon WebView to develop a highly customized video, game, or hybrid app.

Developing on Fire TV vs Android

Many developers who are unfamiliar with the Fire TV OS may be confused about the options available for building a Fire TV app. Both Amazon Fire TV and Android TV use the Android OS, however Fire TV developers will have to account for some of the nuances in the code.

The major differences between developing on the two are as follows:

  • Amazon Fire TV: This refers to the Fire TV set-top box that runs the Fire OS on a TV. Fire OS runs on the Android OS but, unlike Android TV, accommodates hardware and services from Amazon.
  • Android TV: This references the Android OS that is optimized for TV. TVs can use a set-top box to run Android or many TVs themselves can run Android TV as their native OS. This platform also contains the Google Services that Amazon replaced on the Fire TV devices. For example: Google Assistant with Alexa.

One of the major advantages of developing on Fire TV is that you can capitalize on the visibility of your app as it will be available on both the Amazon Appstore and Google Play Store. To learn more about the differences of developing on these two platforms, check out Amazon’s article on the topic.

Fire TV Development Costs

Hiring a developer to build your Amazon Fire TV app is a considerable investment. The final figure will depend mainly on the complexity of the app, as this will determine the skills and experience of the team required.

Related: your ott app build: in house or out?

In-house Developers: most expensive but best oversight

In-house software developers are, as you can imagine, the most expensive option in the long run. In addition to salaries and other employee benefits, the total cost will include expenses like rent, software, and hardware. Hiring an in-house team will provide immense value for enterprises looking to develop a high-end app with specific features. When working under the same roof as your developers, you can oversee each step of the project and benefit from daily face-to-face communication.

Direct conversations reduce the risk of miscommunication and create flexibility to make fast changes to the project. In-house developers also tend to pay more considerable attention to the specific intricacies of the project and typically have greater motivation to achieve the best result for the company.

External Developers: typically cheapest but requires due diligence

Outsourcing your app development and design to an external team offers many of the same benefits of an in-house team at a fraction of the cost. A full-service agency will generally have the resources to deliver on every feature and capability you can dream up. They can also offer additional services, such as market research and marketing strategies. However, these services, just like app maintenance and updates, will incur additional fees.

Hiring an offshore team for your app development can substantially cut costs and help scale your business at a faster rate. For example, an external organization located in India may charge halve the price of a U.S-based agency.

However, there are critical risks that must be addressed before making such a decision. You should exercise caution and perform due diligence by researching the laws and regulations governing intellectual property, data protection, privacy, and service delivery in both countries, in addition to considering potential communication issues, such as time differences, language barriers, and cultural factors (e.g., religious holidays). Only use reputable offshore vendors and conduct an in-depth audit of the vendor’s organization structure and portfolio before committing.

Hybrid: best of both worlds

If you want the best of both worlds, there’s also an option to use a mix of in-house developers and outsourcing. Certain tasks, such as those that are simple yet time-consuming, can be outsourced at a more affordable rate while other more tasks that you’d like to keep a close eye on can be managed internally.

Related: how media companies are developing streaming apps in 2020

By taking a hybrid approach, you may still be able to source talented developers who can deliver on the advanced features and usability you’re after. However, you may run into issues by working with multiple teams, such as conflicting schedules and incompatible processes.

Ultimately, the decision about how to develop your Amazon Fire TV app comes down to risk and cost.

Looking to Develop an App on Amazon Fire TV?

At the beginning of any new software project, you will undoubtedly be faced with many uncertainties and questions. If you want to learn more about Amazon Fire App development, the team at Zemoga are here to help. Get in touch with us today for a quote.

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