Amazon.com's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Fire TV may be the best-selling media player in the United States already, but the online-retail juggernaut isn't content with its media-streaming leadership just yet. Last week, Amazon introduced the latest version of Fire TV's smaller-form sibling, the $39.99 Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote.
Raising the bar
That's not to say the old Fire TV Stick hadn't already found success. Amazon has regularly boasted about "overwhelming" demand for past versions of Fire TV Stick, and found itself scrambling to expand production of the handy device shortly after its launch in late 2014. All the while, and in keeping with Amazon's iterative approach to making its products and services more compelling, Amazon has continuously added features to Fire TV Stick, including public Wi-Fi compatibility, improved parental controls, support for third-party video content, and the X-Ray service to display supplementary information about tens of thousands of titles.
Earlier this month Amazon even pushed an over-the-air software update to both Fire TV and Fire TV Stick to add voice search support for services including Netflix, HBO Go, and HBO Now -- all video-streaming platforms that arguably compete with Amazon Instant Video. But by embracing the competition instead of shunning it, Amazon is effectively making its own platform that much stickier for consumers.
Incidentally, the all-new Fire TV Stick isn't even shipping yet, and remains on preorder with an expected release date of Oct. 20, 2016. But as it stands, a quick glance at its product page shows it is currently the No. 1 best seller in Amazon's electronics category, with Amazon's second-generation Echo Dot product and the Kindle Paperwhite e-reader occupying the second- and third-place spots, respectively. Meanwhile, the more expensive $99.99 Amazon Fire TV streaming-media player sits at a healthy No. 12 on the list.
But apart from its attractive price, what else, specifically, makes the new Fire TV Stick so compelling?
For one, Amazon ramped up its speed, cramming in a quad-core processor and 802.11ac MIMO Wi-Fi that makes its up to 30% faster than the original version. And of course, Fire TV Stick still offers Amazon's Advanced Streaming and Prediction (ASAP) functionality, which automatically predicts what users might watch and buffers it in the background, often reducing or eliminating load times for high-quality content.
"Alexa, turn on my lights"
Perhaps most intriguing is the Alexa Voice remote, which enables easy access and searching of more than 7,000 channels, apps, and "Alexa skills" through Amazon Fire TV Stick.
Regarding those "skills," last month Amazon issued a press release noting that it has been just over a year since it made Alexa Skills Kit and Alexa Voice Service available to developers. Now there are "tens of thousands of developers building Alexa skills," Amazon said, and the number of Alexa skills available to customers has tripled since June, to 3,000.
More specifically, skills enable users to do things like ask Alexa to preheat their oven (something certain connected GE appliance models already support), or receive a stock market update from Bloomberg, or request a recipe from a Food Network show as they watch it. With the TP-Link Kasa skill -- in conjunction with the smart Wi-Fi LED bulbs made by TP-Link Technologies -- users can even ask, "Alexa, turn on my lights."
The list goes on, and will only keep growing from here as Amazon continues to sell even more Alexa-enabled devices.
To be fair, we still don't know exactly how many Fire TV Stick devices Amazon has actually moved, as it doesn't disclose specific unit sales figures. But as it is the top-selling electronics device on the world's largest e-commerce site, you can be sure it's not a small number. In the end, it's all about making Amazon's ecosystem even more deeply embedded in our lives -- and that's something long-term investors can celebrate.