Amazon adds new Alexa features to Fire TV

Alexa on Fire TV has gradually improved since it first debuted last September; Tuesday's update adds television controls and app-launching capabilities.

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Amazon has gone to great lengths in the past year or so to expand its Alexa voice assistant beyond the Echo connected speaker. On Tuesday, one of its other devices that taps the cloud-based Alexa—the Fire TV media streamer—got a whole lot better on Tuesday in an announcement that demonstrates how far behind Google's recently announced Google Home device already is.

While the new features are not immediately available, Amazon will roll these out via software updates over the next few weeks. Among the key new features are Fire TV app-launching capabilities and the option to ask Alexa to play content from Amazon Video and any add-on subscription content, as well as the capability to find movie showtimes at nearby theaters, read Kindle ebooks, and local business search.

The update is the most comprehensive for Alexa on Fire TV to date. The Fire TV version was really no more than just another Echo speaker in your system when it launched in September, although Amazon added smart home support two months later.

With this update, features that arguably should have been in Alexa for Fire TV are finally there. Consider it a move to put it on par with compeitors: Apple TVs already have Siri integration, and the Roku 3 and 4 have similar voice-enabled functionality.

Besides the Alexa improvements, Amazon also made a move Tuesday to improve content availability. Customers with the 4K Fire TV will gain access to YouTube’s growing 4K video library, a smart move considering 4K content still remains scarce.

Why this matters: Amazon's Alexa has become a sure-fire hit for the company, one that Google obviously envies. That said, bringing the Fire TV to near feature parity with the Echo connected speaker, as well as some obvious tie-ins to the Fire TV platform itself makes a whole lot of sense.

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