Amazon will update its current Fire HD 8 and 10 tablets with a new “Show Mode” designed to turn them into voice-controlled Alexa devices, with a large visual experience that can be viewed from across a room. The company will also start selling a new charging dock that automatically puts a Fire HD tablet into Show Mode and holds it at an angle when inserted.
The new mode, to be added through a free software update, will allow users to watch video flash briefings, see music lyrics, check schedules, monitor cameras, and take advantage of other features available on dedicated touch-screen Alexa devices. The on-screen interface will look very familiar to users of the existing Echo Show dedicated Alexa device.
Amazon will sell Show Mode Charging Docks for the Fire HD 8 for $39.99 (after a $34.99 introductory price) and for the Fire HD 10 for $54.99 (after a $49.99 introductory price). Amazon will also bundle a charging dock with a Fire HD 8 tablet for $109.98 or with a Fire HD 10 tablet for $189.98.
The tablets can also be switched into Show Mode from an on-screen toolbar, without using a new Amazon dock.
The tablet-and-dock bundles represent a savings from the $229.99 regular price of the Echo Show. The Fire HD tablets offer more flexibility and portability, but the Echo Show offers higher-end features including a stronger microphone for better voice recognition, a better speaker and the ability to count on the device being in the same place every time.
Amazon previously offered a hands-free Alexa experience on the Fire HD 10, but without the full-screen visual experience.
This is the latest integration of Alexa into Amazon’s Fire-branded hardware, part of the company’s broader move to give its devices new features and better voice controls. The company also wants to increase Alexa usage in the face of competition from Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri and Microsoft Cortana. Alexa started on dedicated Echo smart speakers but has since expanded to other devices from Amazon and third-party hardware makers.
“This adds another use case, so customers can get more utility out of their tablet,” said Allen Hughes, Amazon’s director of sales and marketing for Kindle e-readers and Fire Tablets, during a demonstration of the new Show Mode at Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle on Wednesday.
Amazon says Show Mode will roll out via a free software update for current-generation Fire HD 8 and 10 tablets starting on July 2.
Amazon is also announcing a new 10-inch version of its Fire HD Kids Edition tablet, expanding beyond the existing 7- and 8-inch versions. The 10-inch version will sell for $199.99, shipping on July 11.
Despite an overall decline in the tablet market, Amazon saw a 50 percent increase in its tablet shipments in the fourth quarter, to 5.2 million units, surpassing Samsung to take second place behind Apple for the peak holiday season, according to IDC data. However, Amazon slipped back into fifth place in the first quarter of this year.