The tablet market has been shrinking — but not at Amazon.
The tablet, as a gadget, hasn’t had a great couple of years. The tech industry group Consumer Technology Association expects that sales of tablets will drop 12 percent this year and revenue for those sales will drop 13 percent, extending several quarters of steady decline. The main bright spot in the market has been high-end laptop replacements, such as the Microsoft Surface or iPad Pro, with detachable keyboards. The familiar slate design has all but gone to collect dust in many minds.
That is, except at Amazon.com. There, tablet sales seem to be growing, and the products remain an integral part of the company’s strategies for selling its goods and services to consumers. Amazon ended 2017 as the world’s second-largest tablet maker, behind Apple, having overtaken Samsung during the holiday season, according to International Data Corp., which tracks tablet shipments.
Last week, the online retail giant released a new version, the Fire HD 10 Kids Edition, a durable 10-inch tablet aimed at children for $200. It also released a $40 dock that lets tablet owners put their devices into “Show Mode,” turning them into a screen that acts more like a small television for watching on-demand video, which you can control with your voice.
(Amazon.com chief executive Jeff Bezos is the owner of The Washington Post.)
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Amazon doesn’t release sales figures, but analysts at IDC said that last year the company’s tablet business grew 50 percent in the holiday quarter, when it makes most of its tablet sales. Compare that to Apple, which IDC estimates saw just 0.6 percent growth at that time, or Samsung, which actually saw its market share decline by 13 percent from the previous year.
One likely reason behind Amazon’s success is that its tablets are inexpensive. A basic iPad will cost you $329; Amazon’s highest-end tablet comes in at $150. Those prices are so relatively low that it may be easier to justify buying one to watch YouTube videos in the kitchen or to hand to the kids as a gadget of their own before buying them something pricier. Amazon is essentially the only major manufacturer going for the cheap end of the market right now, and it tends to push tablets with big discounts in the last half of the year, first with its Prime Day shopping holiday in July and then into the holiday season.
“They’re essentially giving these devices away for half of the year,” said Lauren Guenveur, analyst for IDC.
But a relatively cheap price doesn’t sell a device all on its own. Amazon has also doubled down on pushing tablets as an entertainment experience. Take Show Mode, for example. The feature allows you to watch content on your tablet on an ideal screen. “If you look at the usage on tablets, they’re essentially a television replacement,” Guenveur said.
Tablets also provide an alternative to dedicated Alexa devices, such as the Echo, she said. The Fire HD tablets now have Alexa voice control, allowing you to interact with them as you would with the Echo or Dot. That means that Amazon has found a way to make Alexa, and therefore your connection to Amazon, mobile. And that mobility is key, since Amazon doesn’t offer a smartphone, as do its main voice assistant rivals, Apple and Google.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Allen Hughes, Amazon’s director of sales and marketing for Fire tablets, noted that customers who’ve bought any of the many other Alexa products – Echo, Show, Look, Spot, Dot – have to set up the devices in a static spot. “Now,” he said, “you can move from room to room” with your tablet and set up Show Mode docks around the house to take you from couch to nightstand without missing a beat. The Alexa integration also enables a user to take the tablet between home and work, he said.
With Amazon tablets, you never have to be without Alexa. And that’s exactly what Amazon likes to hear.