BMW and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles will be the first automakers to feature seatback screens powered by Amazon’s Fire TV operating system, the tech giant announced Monday at the 2020 Consumer Electronics show.
Amazon wouldn’t say when the integration will happen, or which models that BMW and FCA might equip with these new Amazon-powered seatback screens. It’s not hard to imagine that they’d start with their most family-focused vehicles, meaning large BMW SUVs like the X5, X6, or X7, and FCA minivans like the Pacifica. But we won’t know until Amazon or the automakers offer up more information.
The touchscreens will be able to either stream content over Wi-Fi or the onboard LTE connection, but there will also be an offline playback option so that parents don’t get slammed with a huge bill from data overages.
Like many of its peers, Amazon has spent the last few years encroaching on the in-car entertainment experience, locking down a host of Alexa integrations (like the new ones announced today with Lamborghini and Rivian) and creating an Alexa-powered dashboard device of its own in the Echo Auto along the way.
But sticking Fire TV screens in the seatbacks of cars is a far more serious move. It may not be as commanding a position to occupy as the car’s main infotainment screen — territory that Apple and especially Google have aggressively staked out in recent years — but it allows Amazon to run a full operating system inside a car, something it’s never really done before. Plus, it plays to one of Amazon’s strengths, which is creating kid-focused content with strong parental controls.
Amazon is working with Garmin and automotive supplier Voxx to bring the Fire TV experience to the BMW and FCA vehicles, and the new partnerships are part of an expansion of its third-party program known as “Fire TV Edition” that was announced Monday as well.
Even with that help, it could take a while before a vehicle hits the road with these Amazon-powered seatback screens. Amazon’s hardware boss, Dave Limp, implied in an interview with The Verge that the integration process could take a while, which isn’t surprising given how far ahead in the product pipeline automakers tend to work. “We started Alexa [integration] three and a half years ago, and the new models are just coming to fruition at the end of last year, and now en masse this year,” Limp said.