Amazon Gets Fired Up at San Francisco Press Preview of New Tablets and Fire TV

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The Amazon logo adorned the garage of the rented apartment where yesterday’s press briefing was held in San Francisco.

Yes, Virginia, there is a new $49.99 Fire tablet, available for preorder today and shipping September 30.

But it has a 7-inch screen, not 6-inch as was reported in rumors, and it arrives with a couple of svelte (7.7 millimeters thin) new companions, the Fire HD 8 ($149.99) and Fire HD 10 ($229.99). And if you love talking to Alexa as much as I do, you will be glad to know she’s coming to a Fire TV near you.

If there is going to be a new Kindle Voyage released in November with improved page turns, as was reported by Michael Kozlowski at Good eReader, we didn’t hear about it yesterday at the Amazon press preview in San Francisco. That doesn’t mean for sure the report was in error. Amazon might figure that E Ink page turns are not as sexy as Alexa on TV or the shiny new tablets, so why not drop the new Voyage at in the middle of the night sometime before November? Please let me know if you see it!

Here is what else I learned yesterday at the briefing, which was held in a spiffy three-level rented apartment on a steep hill in San Francisco:

  • The new Fires (and older models that will receive an OS update over the air) have a cool feature named “Word Runner” that will make enabled Kindle books speed-readable. Words flash at you one at a time, at a speed you determine, and Word Runner will slow down for big words and punctuation. When you’re done speeding, your Fire will will remember where you left off normal reading or Audible listening. [Click here for a video I created demonstrating Word Runner.]
  • Dedicated eReaders may not be doubling in market share every year in the States and other developed markets any more, but sales are growing like crazy in China and India. That news came from Dave Limp, Amazon senior vice president for devices, as he set the stage for the new product demos. The E Ink Kindle is also seeing a renaissance in established markets, Limp said, because it represents “an oasis for reading” in an age of increasing distractions.
  • Hearing Alexa’s friendly voice on the new Fire TV was like running into an old friend in a distant time zone. While watching your television, you can ask her, for example, “Who directed Star Wars episode 4?” If you ask her for the weather in Cambridge, Mass., you will see a graphic with the information on your TV.
  • The new Fire TV box looks like the old Fire TV box, but inside there are, in addition to Alexa, lots of performance goodies, including 4K Ultra HD capability, better WiFi, and 75 percent more processing power than the current model. I think Amazon is raising the price 99 cents, to $99.99, but as I write this on the flight back to Boston I can’t check the price of the original Fire TV, because it’s listed at as “currently unavailable.”
  • Fire TV Stick is new and improved, too, with a voice remote added and a higher price–$49.99 instead of $39 for the voiceless original stick, which remains in the lineup.
  • Customers love the Fire Kids Edition, we were told, a trope oft repeated at any Amazon event, the things that customers love. And why not? They’ve earned the right to talk about what we love by giving it to us more often than not. In the case of Fire for Kids, the updated package comprises the new Fire tablet, a year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited, a kid-proof case, and a two-year guarantee against drops and dog maulings. You can also let your Fire kid loose at 20,000 “hand-curated and age-appropriate websites and YouTube videos.” The new Fire Kids Edition is available for pre-order at $99.99. Shipping starts September 30.
  • Amazon redesigned its game controller and included it in a new Fire TV Gaming Edition for $139.99. You get the new controller, a 32 GB microSD card and two included games–Shovel Knight and Disney’s Ducktales. It’s available for pre-order today and begins shipping October 5. You can buy the controller separately for $39.99, available today for preorder with shipping “in October.”
Dave Limp

Dave Limp, right, and another exec from Amazon preview the new Fire tablets.

The new products mark a smart evolution for Amazon’s peerless Mayday support. On the new Fire TV devices as well as the new tablets, you won’t see a little video screen of your Amazon tech rep, but he or she will still be able to guide you remotely or take control if you wish, all while seeing exactly what’s on your screen. The good news is that this adjustment in Mayday means the “take control” support is available 24/7 year round even on the new $50 Fire. If you want to see your friendly Amazon tech rep in a video popup window, you will still be able to do so by using Mayday on the Fire HDX 7 and Fire HDX 8.9.

This is smart, in my opinion, because the killer feature of the original Mayday was enabling the tech to see and control your screen. Dave Limp said this resulted in, on average, shorter tech sessions than comparable sessions by phone, which makes sense. When you don’t have to describe what’s on your screen in words, the process goes a lot faster.

On the new Fires and Fire TV, you will initiate a regular phone call to Amazon Support, and they will call you back within seconds. If they can solve your problem over the phone, that will be that. If you’d like to enter Mayday Screen Sharing, the tech will initiate an invite that you will accept on your TV or tablet.

The Fire TV version of Mayday Screen Sharing even lets the tech take control of your remote, and you will see the buttons he or she is pressing during the session, in addition to what’s on your TV. Brilliant.

Fire OS 5, called “Bellini” (no clue), does hundreds of new things, in addition to Word Runner. The feature that Amazon execs spent the most time talking about was how the new OS helps you find stuff you might like to read or watch. For each category of media–books, music, video etc.–you will see a separate collection of suggestions, attractively presented as if you are flipping through a glossy magazine. I like this. Any tool that helps me find great content is appreciated. I will have to try it out before I can rave freely, but my first look in the demos yesterday was very promising.

Another useful trick that the new Fire HD tablets will be able to perform (I’m not sure if the $50 Fire can do it–I feel the plane dipping down toward Logan and need to wind this up) is called On Deck. This solves the problem of forgetting to download a few episodes of “Big Bang Theory” before your last-minute flight to San Francisco, and of course the airline’s WiFi won’t let you do video. For Prime members, On Deck keeps your Fire current with popular Prime content and Amazon Originals. What’s very clever is that On Deck only uses available storage when it quietly adds this recommended content to your device. And if you need space for your own downloads, On Deck will make room for it somehow. This feature will be available by a free over-the-air Fire OS update “in the coming months.”

I want to close with my favorite example of how yesterday’s media briefing showed that Amazon still loves innovating and then stepping back to see what customers do with the newness. Dave Limp, who earned big-time TKC love by agreeing to re-record a one-on-one interview after I realized I hadn’t hit “record” the first time, grinned boyishly when he talked about what the new Fire’s $50 price point might lead to. Amazon tried out the new Fires on testers. One said it could serve as an alarm clock in the bed room. Or maybe a couple of them could go in the car to entertain kids on trips. I can imagine leaving one in our kitchen just for my morning read of The Washington Post app.

The $50 Fire possibilities remind me of a Harvard Business School professor thirty plus years ago asking us, “What business would you create if computing power were free?” Moore’s Law keeps driving chip prices toward zero, and look what amazing things have been invented because of it in the past three decades.

Amazon is priming the pump on creative uses for the new Fire by selling them in a bright orange $249.95 six-pack, in which you get one free if you buy five. That lowers the price to $41.66 for sweet little tablet that has been torture tested in Amazon’s labs for durability. I confess I am tempted to buy a six-pack just for the fun of it, and I bet I can dream up uses for them, or identify family members who don’t know they need a tablet yet but will realize it when I give them one. [Note back on the ground this morning: When I suggested I might buy a six-pack and give my wife Darlene one, she said, “Don’t bother. I love my Paperwhite.”

If you buy a six-pack of Fires or anything else you’e learned about here, please begin your purchase by clicking on the Amazon display ad in the upper right corner, the better to support the podcast with Amazon Associate commissions.

And please be sure to tune in for the next Kindle Chronicles podcast tomorrow, episode 372, for more details and observations from San Francisco.

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Comments 4

  1. Garrett Riley wrote:

    “Alexa, when will there be a new dedicated e ink kindle?”

    Posted 17 Sep 2015 at 10:47 am
  2. Garrett Riley wrote:

    It seems that Amazon has finally realized that after a colossally failed experiment of trying to go toe to toe with Apple on hardware, they are back to focusing on being cheaper….which feels like a smart competitive move

    Posted 17 Sep 2015 at 12:35 pm
  3. Tom Semple wrote:

    It is somewhat disappointing that they are not offering a ‘premium’ tablet experience any longer, and specifically something with higher pixel density on the larger screens. At least they have kept dual band wifi and better cameras on those (as well as adding the microSD slot). I am looking forward to the update for my HD6, but have no reason to get a new Fire. Still interested in Voyage 2 if that is in the works.

    I wonder how many people actually use Mayday. I’ve only used it once, and they were not able to answer my question after getting passed to 3 different people. I have another issue that I keep meaning to ask them about, but otherwise I have not really have any reason to use it. Two other family members (less technical than I) also have Fire Phones and have never used it.

    Posted 17 Sep 2015 at 4:03 pm
  4. Len Edgerly wrote:

    ReCode has a good story on the strategy behind the new tablets – . I don’t use Mayday much, either, though I like knowing it’s there.

    Posted 17 Sep 2015 at 5:09 pm

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