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Amazon debuts new Kindle Fire HDX with 24/7 Mayday live support

A sample screen of the new "Mayday" button customer service feature on the screen of a new Amazon Kindle HDX tablet computer is shown. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Amazon has announced it is updating its Kindle line with the new Kindle Fire HDX. Along with reportedly being significantly faster, lighter, with sharper, more colorful displays than the previous generation, Amazon is also debuting a new feature called “Mayday.”

“You press a button on the tablet and up pops live video of a customer support rep who can remote into your tablet and actually draw on your screen, show you where the different buttons are, show you how to download a movie if you don’t know how to do it,” said GeekWire‘s Todd Bishop.

Bishop tells The Morning News on KIRO Radio that their target for help via the Mayday button is a 15 second response time.

“Over the holidays, I’m sure that will be pushed to the limit but this is their attempt to basically take advantage of the fact that they’re involved in everything from operating system to the cloud service to the customer support and that is what Jeff Bezos says is sort of their secret sauce with this feature,” said Bishop.

The helpers can explain new features or troubleshoot problems while guiding users with on-screen hand scribbles.

“You shouldn’t have to be afraid of your device,” Bezos said.

In a demo, Bezos asked an on-screen customer service rep to recommend a hot app. The rep mentioned “Angry Birds: Star Wars II.” Bezos also received instructions on how to set time limits on various activities for children.

While the new Kindles, available in a 7-inch and 8.9-inch version, are upgraded in several ways Amazon also cut the price on what will be its entry-level 7-inch tablet, the Kindle Fire HD with 8 gigabytes of memory, to $139. The base HD model previously cost $199, but had 16 gigabytes of memory. The price makes the tablet just $20 more than Amazon’s latest dedicated e-reader, the Kindle Paperwhite.

Stephen Baker, a consumer technology analyst with research firm NPD Group, said the price cut to the Kindle Fire HD will do more to help Amazon compete in the tablet market than the added features on the newer models.

“That’s where that model needs to be priced,” Baker said, explaining that there are numerous manufacturers with tablets with screens that measure 7 inches diagonally _ all priced around $150. “A big focus in that 7-inch category is just price.”

In the May-July period, Kindles accounted for 17 percent of all tablets sold in the U.S., compared with 48 percent for Apple’s iPad and 8 percent for Samsung’s Galaxy line, according to NPD.

The Kindle HDX models come with Qualcomm’s quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor, which is top of the line for tablets. Amazon said they are three times faster than the older Kindle Fire line. For graphics functions, the HDX models are four times faster than before.

Beyond the improved specifications, Amazon also unveiled more features that incorporate data from its IMDb movie database business. With the newer tablets, users who turn on the “X-ray” feature can see a small window that lists the name of a song that is playing in some TV shows and movies. One tap brings up the option to buy the song.
Users can also look for all music in a show and zip to the exact spot where a particular song is playing.

People who have set up Amazon’s video player as an app on their Internet-connected TVs or through game consoles can also follow along in real time on their tablets, getting information on actors and trivia related to the shows on the big screen.

Music lovers can see song lyrics when they play songs purchased from Amazon. Lyrics are highlighted as they are sung. Tapping on the lyrics will zip to the appropriate point in the song.

Bezos said these services are only possible because Amazon provides the hardware, operating system, applications, cloud infrastructure and services for the devices. The “hardest and coolest” services such as its “Mayday” service lie at the intersection of “customer delight” and “deep integration through the entire stack,” he said.

The 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX starts at $379 for 16 gigabytes of memory, while the 7-inch starts at $229 also with 16 gigabytes. Buyers can order them starting Wednesday. The 7-inch will ship Oct. 18, while the 8.9-inch will ship starting Nov. 7.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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