With Amazon having entered the fray with its Fire Stick, joining the Roku Streaming Stick and (of course) Google’s Chromecast, it would appear that we have definitely entered, TV wise, the AD era: the Age of the Dongle.
Tom Cheesewright (from applied futurism practice Book of the Future)points to the compelling logic behind the proliferation of this form of innovation.
“As a market as a whole, it makes perfect sense,” he explains. “There must be I don’t know how many millions of dumb TVs out there, and the chance to make them smart for eighty quid is pretty appealing. Eighty quid’s not nothing, but if it’s that versus a new TV…”
Arguably it comes down to the fact that these dongles are filling a gap in the market. Particularly since there hasn’t been a widely compelling reason for consumers to upgrade the screen on the wall (which, in terms of its evolution, has arguably reached something of a hiatus). “3-D fell flat on its face, 4K content isn’t quite at the availability yet to really convince people to make the leap. So everybody’s got these forty, fifty, sixty inch devices, and all they want is the ability to stick some internet content through it.”
As Amazon’s own contribution indicates, however, these streaming sticks are getting much more powerful. And with Google revealing plans for a second Chromecast, is it possible that these dongles could gradually assume significance in the area of gaming? We contacted Charlotte Miller, Research Analyst, Digital Media, Ovum, for her views on this angle…
“With regards to games, these sticks aren’t that interesting right now – they need cloud gaming services to pick up first,” she told us. “Mobile games tend not to play that well on a big screen and there is little interest in developing for such a niche market. Games will probably come in time but for the big screen experiences consumers expect, you will need another device to do the heavy lifting processing wise.”
Regardless of strengths and limitations, the Age of the Dongle is an inherently intermediary one, exploiting a fragmentation that has to be finite.
“The natural replacement cycle means that at some point everyone’s going to have a TV that gets most of its content – if not all of it – via the internet,” Cheesewright concurs. “The idea that you’re going to buy, if you’re in any way tech savvy today, a TV that doesn’t have some sort of internet connectivity is somewhat bizarre. Unfortunately the experience is so fragmented and so wildly different between manufacturers that it’s not an easy purchase for consumers at the moment, which is why these much more unifying forces of one platform that can plug into multiple TVs are appealing.”