Starting Monday, Amazon announced the rollout of yet another free, over-the-air software update to Amazon Fire TV and the Fire TV stick. But while the last update focused on functional improvements such as public Wi-Fi compatibility and support for external USB storage, this one is all about maximizing the Fire TV entertainment experience.
Curious couch warriors, meet X-Ray for Fire TV. X-Ray is a supplementary service integrated with the vast database of IMDb and so allows viewers to access and display a mountain of interesting information on tens of thousands of titles as they watch. That includes information not only for the actors currently on screen, but also on music playing during a show, as well as fun facts, trivia, and back stories behind any given scene -- all with a simple click of the remote.
To be fair, X-Ray isn't exactly new. It was launched way back in September 2012 for Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet line. But that also means Amazon knows well how much its customers enjoy the service. And expanding X-Ray's reach to the Fire TV line should serve to only further strengthen the value proposition of Amazon's streaming media ecosystem.
Fire TV was also selling well before the updates. Just last month, Amazon VP Peter Larsen called consumers' response to Fire TV and Fire TV Stick "overwhelming" and stated that it's working hard to "build more of both as quickly as possible." Larsen also noted that Fire TV was already the fastest-selling streaming-media box on Amazon in the UK and Germany and predicted that the impending launch of Fire TV stick in both markets would be well received by "millions" of additional customers there.
That's not to say Fire TV doesn't have stiff competition. Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)(NASDAQ:GOOGL) Chromecast retails at $35, or just below the $39 price of Amazon Fire TV Stick. According to NPD data, Chromecast was also the best-selling streaming-media device in the U.S last year. But that's unsurprising, as Google regularly uses its own massive ecosystem of complementary products to bring the price much lower. Last summer, for example, Google offered new Chromecast buyers a free 90-day subscription to its $9.99-per-month Google Play Music All Access service, bringing the effective cost of the device down to just $5.
And in January, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) CEO Tim Cook confirmed that his company had already sold 25 million Apple TV units. Cook further promised that Apple will "continue to look at and work on finding a way that [Apple TV] can make an even greater contribution to what we're doing."
Sure enough, it appears more likely than ever that Apple will enter the over-the-top content market with an Apple TV service later this year. In the meantime, and keeping in mind that Fire TV currently retails for $99, Apple took the opportunity at its "Spring Forward" event last month to lower the price of Apple TV from $99 to $69. That makes sense, considering Apple TV's hardware hasn't been updated since early 2013. But it also means Amazon will need to work that much harder to prove Fire TV is worth the extra money.
In the end, that's exactly where updates like this come into play. As long as Amazon continues to roll out compelling new features for Fire TV, not only will existing customers be more willing to stick around, but an increasing number of new buyers will also begin to tune in. Over the long term, that bodes well for Amazon's chances for grabbing as large a chunk of this burgeoning market as possible.
Steve Symington owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com, Apple, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Apple, Google (A shares), and Google (C shares). Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.