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With $50 Fire Tablet, Amazon Doubles Down on Low-End Hardware

Phone? What phone?

Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

Just a week after Apple introduced a generation of its priciest gadgets, Amazon is targeting bargain hunters with new tablets and Fire TV products that cost what the iPhone maker charges for accessories.

On Thursday, Amazon introduced a $50, seven-inch Fire tablet along with two mid-range models with larger, high-resolution displays. With Fire TV, which lets users stream Web video, Amazon is adding a $49 option pairing its voice remote with the Fire TV Stick for those customers who don’t want to shell out for the full-cost $99 box, though that device is also getting an upgrade to support 4K video.

However, Amazon chose not to update its highest-end Fire tablet, the 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX, a tacit admission that its effort to target iPad buyers and the higher end of the market failed to bear fruit. (The existing HDX model will remain in the lineup, Amazon said.)

Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

“Where most of our customers are is in the more value segment of the pricing,” Amazon device business head David Limp said Wednesday as he showed off the new devices to reporters. “That’s where most of our tablets have been selling.”

The $50 model is being pitched as more capable than other bargain-basement tablets, but its ultra-low price may end up being its biggest feature. Amazon is betting that low prices would inspire customers to make use of its products in new ways. That’s why it is offering the Fire tablet in a six pack for $249.

Limp noted the tablets are far cheaper than many accessories for Apple’s iPad. “You can get two of them for the price of [an Apple] Pencil.”

Amazon is also offering the Fire 7 in a $99 kids’ edition with a protective bumper, additional content and a two-year replacement promise if a kid throws it in the tub or out the window. Higher up, but still well below the price of an iPad, Amazon is offering the $149 Fire HD 8 and $229 Fire HD 10, two thin-and-light models offering a slightly more upscale feel along with their high-definition displays. All the new tablets, which start shipping at the end of the month, come with MicroSD slots allowing customers to add storage later and more inexpensively than on rival devices.

The talk wasn’t all about price, though. Amazon has added some new features, bringing its Alexa assistant to Fire TV and the new OnDeck feature to its tablets, which automatically fills them up with TV shows and movies so that people are never stuck on a plane without something new to watch. OnDeck, which is launching “in the coming months,” provides Prime subscribers with content based on Amazon’s recommendation engine while offering up a smattering of Amazon original programming to non-subscribers. Finally, the company has a new speed-reading feature called Word Runner that shows a single word at a time, à la the app Spritz.

Vjeran Pavic for Re/code

One topic that Limp had no interest in addressing was the company’s ill-fated foray into phones. After deep discounting, the company has at last sold the last of its Fire phones. After initially promising to learn and improve, Amazon is now staying mum about coming back to the phone market.

Limp did say that Amazon is growing its hardware business overall, despite reported layoffs at its Silicon Valley offices. Limp said the company is hiring in its Sunnyvale and Seattle offices as well as in India and China.

“If you know any good people, let me know,” Limp said. “Just look at our job page. We are hiring.”

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