Home Amazon Fire TV Gets USB Support And Travel-Friendly Features

Amazon Fire TV Gets USB Support And Travel-Friendly Features

Cord-cutters have plenty of streaming-TV options, but Amazon just upped the stakes.

The company revealed several new upcoming features for its Fire TV products on Tuesday, including support for external USB storage and the sort of wireless networks found in hotels. The announcements seem strategically designed to set Amazon’s TV devices apart, as few competitors—and none of its top rivals—offer similar options. 

See also: Amazon’s Fire TV Stick Aims To Compete With Chromecast

The timing is impossible to ignore. The Amazon news lands just after a report claiming that Apple wants to reinvigorate its TV initiatives. But with the iPhone company likely waiting for its Worldwide Developers Conference in June to reveal its intentions, there’s plenty of time for contenders to put up a fierce fight—and Amazon looks like it’s coming out swinging.

Amazon Beefs Up Its Streaming Powers

Currently, on the Amazon e-commerce site’s list of bestselling TV products, the company’s own $39 Fire TV stick sits at number one. The small unit wrested the top spot from the $30 Chromecast, which was the reigning champ on and off for more than a year.

According to Peter Larsen, vice president of Amazon Devices, the company has been working at breakneck speed to satisfy all the demand for both the Fire TV set-top box and the streaming stick. In a press statement, he said Amazon has been “working hard to build more of both as quickly as possible.” But as it lines up its hardware, it’s also clearly pushing to advance the software—primarily by addressing travel, one of the most vexing problems for streaming fans.

See also: Have Chromecast, Will Travel … Er, Maybe Not

Some customers buy compact TV sticks expressly so they can take them on trips. But none of the most popular streaming devices—specifically Chromecast, Apple TV and Roku—work with complex logins or the multi-screen setups often used in hotels and other public locations. But Amazon’s upcoming update will.

Both the $39 Fire TV stick and the squarish $99 set-top box will work with hotel Wi-Fi, airport hotspots, university networks and other “captive portals” requiring secondary authentication or acceptance of other terms. That alone positions Amazon’s Fire TV product line as the only choice for business travelers or vacationers who want to take their Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu or other streams on the go. 

Amazon’s TV box will also get support for external USB storage, so users can store and play their own games, apps and media, instead of solely relying on streaming. The set-top will soon work with Bluetooth headphones, too, so people who use wireless earbuds with their smartphones can use the same headsets for TV audio. Of the top TV streaming devices, the only other product that offers private listening is Roku, which comes courtesy of a headphone jack in the remote for the Roku 2 and 3. 

See also: HBO Go Hits Amazon Fire TV, May Bring Cord-Cutting Service Too

Other changes coming to both the Fire TV box and stick include hidden PIN code entry, so the numbers won’t show up onscreen when you input them for purchases, new Prime Music playlists and remote control shortcuts. In addition, the company announced that the Fire TV Stick orders will open immediately in the UK and Germany, with a ship date beginning on April 15.

Amazon’s new features will arrive as free over-the-air software updates some time in the “coming weeks.”

It’s Going To Be A Hot Summer

Amazon’s streaming gadgets also likely benefitted from key partnerships—in particular, the company’s latest deal with Sling TV.

The service adds live television streaming to Fire TV’s feature list, similar to the new service expected from Apple this summer. Speaking of Apple, its next-generation Apple TV will also reportedly offer voice features. Voice was a distinguishing factor for Amazon’s first Fire TV set-top product when it debuted last year. Though limited, Amazon’s voice search has slowly begun to expand beyond its Instant Watch catalog to include Hulu Plus, HBO Go and Showtime Anytime, among others.

Television may only scratch the surface of Apple’s ambitions, but when it comes to standalone TV products, Amazon’s devices could wind up holding their own—partially due to the new additions coming soon, but also because of price.

See also: Apple’s Small iOS 8.3 Updates Speak Volumes About Where It’s Headed

Amazon’s compact device is currently the least expensive streaming TV product that offers the combination of live online TV programming, travel-readiness and, at the very least, a foundation for growing voice features.

Roku also works with Sling TV, though it offers no voice features and no support for captive portal networks yet. Chromecast, the second most popular option, offers no voice support and does not work with hotel Wi-Fi networks, though it’s capable of some live television streaming through individual third-party services or providers, like ABC. To make its Chromecast more appealing, Google announced several promotions last week for streaming subscriptions and a free Google Play movie rental. 

But the battle for the living room isn’t over yet. There’s more than two months to go before Apple’s WWDC conference, with Google’s I/O developers conference falling in between, so more announcements are likely on the way. Stay tuned. 

Amazon Fire TV Stick lead photo and Game Of Thrones photo by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite; Amazon Fire TV set-top box product shot courtesy of Amazon

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The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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