The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) was up just 43 points in late trading after an up and down day, perhaps capitalizing on good news including the Commerce Department report that factory orders rose 1.6% in February, up from a 1% decline in January. It looks like the deep freeze that's been over the country is lifting and economic data is starting to reflect that.
But the real excitement is in the tech world, which was shaken up by two major moves today.
Amazon makes a play for your living room
Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) today announced its highly anticipated Fire TV set-top box, which offers a lot more features than competitors right now. It'll load all of your Amazon content, offer third-party apps through its Android operating system, and sync to Kindle devices.
The surprise of the day is that Amazon is also making a play for the casual gaming market. A separate game controller can be purchased for playing games bought on Amazon's store, making it far more than just a streaming device.
Amazon is clearly taking on Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Roku, and Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox, but the long-term success of Fire TV will come down to new products from competitors in coming months. Apple has long been rumored to be working on a next-generation Apple TV, Roku is constantly adding apps, and Microsoft made a move today that could make its ecosystem more attractive. The good news for Amazon shareholders is that the e-tailer has a head start, and with a growing ecosystem of apps and streaming content it has a good chance to take a major share of the set-top market. Nonetheless, the stock was just barely on the right side of breakeven at 3:30 p.m. EDT.
Microsoft announces a free strategy
Microsoft hasn't gained the kind of traction it hoped for -- and needs -- in mobile devices, so it announced today that Windows will be free for screens less than 9 inches. This could make the operating system more attractive to smartphone and tablet makers, giving them an alternative to Android.
The other big development is universal apps for all Microsoft-powered devices. Now smartphones, tablet, computers, and even Xbox One will have the same look and feel for developers and users.
This isn't insignificant because Microsoft has been behind Apple in offering a consistent interface across devices; this may now even put Windows ahead of iOS and OSX in some respects. At the very least, Microsoft is making moves that will make its software more attractive to developers and that's what will keep users in the ecosystem. That's good news for shareholders.