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Alexa takes on a bigger role in Amazon’s budget Fire HD 10

Amazon positions its biggest tablet at less than half the price of an iPad as it pushes its digital assistant.

Ben Fox Rubin Former senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Ben Fox Rubin
3 min read

Amazon adds more Alexa, more battery life and more speed to its new tablet.

Ben Fox Rubin/CNET

The Amazon devices team used to make devices. Now, they make different shaped houses for Alexa.

The e-retailing giant on Tuesday unveiled a new Fire HD 10, Amazon's first tablet to include a hands-free mode for accessing Alexa, the company's voice assistant. To entice shoppers into buying the new tablet, Amazon also added a faster processor, increased the battery life and cut the price to $150, from $230 for the 2015 model.

The move shows how significant Alexa has already become for Amazon, which is using the digital butler in an effort to take over the smart home market, bring in more Amazon shoppers and maintain closer connections with its customers.

Alexa had already been integrated into past Amazon tablets, but it was only reachable by pressing the home button. Now people can queue up a song, pause a movie, dim the lights or check the weather entirely with a voice interaction. The addition, which works best when you're only a few feet from the device, should make leaning back to watch shows a little more enjoyable. (Chatting with Alexa from across the room isn't as effective because the tablet only has one microphone for picking up sound.)

"It's really optimized for video consumption," Mark Yoshitake, a director on Amazon's tablets team, said of the new device. "Because of the Alexa hands-free that we're adding, we think it's super-easy to get to content, control content."

Alexa may have started as the assistant inside Echo smart speakers, but it's now all over Amazon's devices lineup. In addition to its tablets, Amazon has added Alexa to the Dash Wand grocery scanner and the Fire TV streamer's remote. It's also rumored to have created a new Fire TV device with speakers, mics and potentially amped-up Alexa capabilities. Alexa, too, moved into Amazon's mobile shopping app. 

Kindle e-readers don't currently include Alexa, but it wouldn't be all that surprising if they did one day, maybe to read you those books.

Amazon Fire HD 10 (2017) pictures

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"We realized right away that Alexa in many ways is the thing that we would be focusing on," Daniel Rausch, Amazon's vice president of smart home, said in an interview in July. The comment was a response to a question about whether the Echo line or Alexa was more important to the company.

Amazon is the top dog in the smart speaker world, giving Alexa a solid foundation from which to branch out. Amazon's Echo devices make up 76 percent, or 15 million units, of the total base of smart speakers in the US, thanks in large part to Echo's launch two years ahead of the competition. Google Home has just 24 percent, or 5 million devices, researcher Consumer Intelligence Research Partners reported Monday.

Making Alexa easier to access in more places could also help Amazon fight off the growing horde of competitors, including Google, Apple and Samsung, which are trying to nab a bigger slice of the smart assistant market. The more loyal customers are to Alexa, the less they'll feel the need to use another assistant.

The Fire HD 10 is another example of Amazon's typical strategy of selling you lower-priced devices, and using them as gateways into its shopping site and Prime membership program. Even with the lower price, the tablet is still Amazon's most expensive one, with its tablet prices falling as low as $50 for the Fire 7.

In comparison, Apple's 9.7-inch iPad starts at $329.

With the help of those cheaper devices, Amazon's tablet sales shot up 52 percent last quarter from a year earlier, during a time when tablet sales were down overall worldwide, according to researcher IDC.

Preorders for the Fire HD 10 begin Tuesday, with the devices starting to ship in the US, UK, Germany and Japan on Oct. 11.

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