Amazon has launched a new firmware update for its Fire HD tablets as well as the Fire TV Cube, expanding the Show Mode feature with the addition of incoming Drop In and/or Announcements. Following the update which began rolling out yesterday, Amazon Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 10 tablets launched last year, along with the newer Fire HD 8 (2018) model introduced in September will be able to receive incoming Drop In video calls with connected Alexa-powered devices, and take advantage of incoming Announcements, i.e., recorded audio messages passed along from one compatible device to another via the Alexa Voice Service. Previously, both of these features were only available as outgoing. Meanwhile, only Announcements have been introduced to the Fire TV Cube and according to VentureBeat, the feature will be further improved on the Fire TV Cube later this month. The latest update effectively expands the functionality of Show Mode which was introduced to the Amazon Fire HD tablets earlier this summer and brings these devices closer to Amazon Echo devices equipped with displays, in terms of their Alexa capabilities.
Background: Up until earlier this year, Amazon's Fire HD tablets offered a different experience compared to Alexa-based Echo devices featuring their own screens, such as the Echo Show. The tablets have historically been more focused on delivering multimedia content to users via the Amazon platform, including movies and e-books. Meanwhile, devices like the Amazon Echo Show have primarily revolved around the Alexa AI, giving users a way to interact with their devices and perform various tasks and searches using voice commands. Earlier this year this clear line between the Amazon Fire HD tablets and the Echo Show was blurred when Show Mode was introduced through a firmware update to the newer Fire HD tablets. It allowed users of these devices to enter a new mode which effectively transformed the user interface and offered certain Alexa-based features that were previously found only on the Echo Show. With Show Mode, Alexa's capabilities were no longer limited to delivering information through audio, and instead, the AI could take advantage of the Fire HD tablets' displays to offer visual information as well. Certain features were still missing in Show Mode for the Fire HD tablets, but now with the latest software release, incoming Drop In and Announcements have been introduced to the slates. As long as the new software update is applied these new features can be enabled from the "Hands-Free Mode" and "Communications Calling and Messaging" menus on the Fire HD tablets. As for the Fire TV Cube, only Announcements are supported following the new firmware release, but the feature will be expanded later this month to include motion detection and connectivity with smart doorbells.
Impact: After the launch of two major firmware updates for Amazon's tablet series this year and the introduction of a new accessory, i.e., the dock for the Fire HD slates, the technology giant is virtually fusing the Echo Show and Fire HD product lineups, at least as far as software, AI, and user experience is concerned. It will be interesting to see whether Amazon's hardware portfolio will change in the coming year to reflect these changes in software, or if the Echo Show and Fire HD will continue to coexist. Either way, it seems like the Echo Show series is currently leading Amazon's philosophy, in that features available on the screen-enabled Alexa device are making their way onto the Fire HD tablets, and not the other way around. The tech giant launched the 2nd generation Echo Show in September, boasting a larger display and improved speakers compared to the original model.