Amazon brings Alexa to its line of tablets, starting with the Fire HD 8

Amazon Fire HD 8
Jessica Lee Star/Digital Trends
If you have an old Amazon Fire tablet gathering dust in your upstairs attic, you might want to consider dusting it off — in the coming weeks, it is set to learn a few new tricks. On Wednesday, retail behemoth Amazon announced that Alexa, its intelligent voice assistant, will debut on the new Fire HD 8 and the rest of Amazon’s tablet portfolio before the end of 2016.

Alexa on Fire tablets works much like Apple’s Siri assistant on iOS devices. It is triggered by pressing and holding on the home button and if you have used Alexa before, you will feel right at home. The iteration of Alexa on Fire supports many of the third-party apps — “skills,” in Amazon’s vernacular — originally programmed for Amazon’s other devices. You can add items to your Amazon shopping cart and reorder items you purchased recently, for instance, and control smart home devices from Philips, Nest, Logitech, Samsung’s SmartThings, and others. It can handle simpler queries, too. Ask which actor starred in a particular TV show and it will provide the answer. Request showtimes for an upcoming movie and it will pull up a list of nearby theaters and schedules. Or alternatively schedule a recurring reminder, set a timer, or ask Alexa to perform any other of dozens of responsibilities under the voice assistant’s purview.

But Alexa on Fire devices has a few tricks up its sleeve. It can open apps with a simple voice command and it shows information related to your requests in a card-like interface. A question about the weather pulls up precipitation graphs, for instance, while a request for a song or album will summon music controls. The latter is impressively deep — the controls include album art, playback buttons, and recommendations from third-party services like Pandora and Spotify.

Alexa plays nicely with Fire TV devices, too. An experimental feature, “voice cast,” shoots the aforementioned cards to your television. It is available on the Echo and Echo Dot owners in a limited preview and scheduled to roll out to new Echo Dot owners in the next few weeks.

Fire tablets are far from the first hardware to gain Alexa capabilities. Smartwatches like the CoWatch and upcoming Pebble, speakers like the Fabriq, and home intercom systems like Nucleus tap Amazon’s cloud intelligence to handle voice queries, along with more than 10,000 third-party software developers. And that support’s driven broad adoption — Alexa boasts well over 1,000 third-party apps and games.

Alexa’s growth comes on the heels of encroachments by Google and Apple. Siri, Apple’s voice assistant on iOS, launched on MacOS earlier this year with third-party integrations, and rumors persist that the company’s working on a new Apple TV with beefed-up Siri support in the form of built-in microphones. Google announced in June that its take on an always-on assistant, Google Home, will go on sale in November.

But Amazon is not taking the competition lying down. The company is reportedly engineering a follow-up device to its current Echo lineup, code-named Knight, that sports a tablet-like display capable of serving web pages, videos, and more. At the Code Conference in San Francisco earlier in 2016 Amazon boss Jeff Bezos revealed that more than 1,000 members of Amazon’s software team are contributing to Alexa’s ongoing development. “There’s so much more to come,” he told Recode. “It’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

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