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Amazon Puts 'Hands-Free' Alexa Voice Assistant on its New Tablet

How to revive a stagnant tablet market? Make the gadgets more like those fast-selling, voice controlled speakers. That looks like Amazon’s strategy with the launch of its latest flagship tablet.

The company debuted a new version of its Fire HD 10 tablet on Tuesday that has a high-definition screen for watching video, up to 64 GB of storage, a lower price and a processor that runs 30 percent faster, Amazon said.

The most significant new feature is hands-free voice control, which lets users ask questions and do other things like play music and listen to the news by saying “Alexa” without touching the device. Along with audio-based responses, the tablet will display information, like weather and calendar appointments, on special cards on the screen like the Echo Show speaker introduced earlier this year. This only works when the tablet is hooked up to Wi-Fi. (Last year, Amazon added Alexa to its Fire tablets but the digital assistant had to be summoned with the touch of a button).

This feature will be added to Fire HD 10 tablets through a software update starting Oct. 11, and more Alexa capabilities will be added to the device in the future, Amazon said.

Tablets arrived earlier in the decade to much fanfare — people thought they might save the magazine business — and the possibility of seriously cannibalizing sales of laptops. But the market has cooled significantly in recent years. In the second quarter, shipments fell 3.4 percent from a year earlier. Amazon had 6.4 percent of the market, up 52 percent year over year, but still trailed Apple, Samsung and Huawei, according to IDC data. By contrast, the market for internet-connected speakers grew 62 percent last year, with Amazon’s Echo devices leading, Strategy Analytics data show.

In a move to boost adoption of the Fire HD 10, the new model will cost $150, which is $80 cheaper than the previous generation. Amazon typically sells its gadgets for little or no profit to boost sales of its retail and web services like Amazon Prime subscriptions and digital content. Amazon tablets will also be getting a software update with a dedicated recommendations page to push the download
of new movies, music, and books, Amazon said.

— Bloomberg News

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