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Posts tagged with "Amazon"

Voice Control is Coming to the Alexa App Soon

Amazon is adding voice control support to its Alexa app on Android and iOS. According to TechCrunch:

The addition of voice commands means users can speak directly to their handset the way they would an Echo — to play music, trigger Alexa skills and the like. The update is being rolled out over the course of the coming days through Google Play and Amazon’s own Appstore. A similar update is also on the way for the iOS App Store, but its timing is still up in the air, likely due to Apple’s stricter vetting process.

Unlike Google and Apple, Amazon doesn’t have a smartphone platform for its smart assistant. That puts Amazon at a disadvantage because it precludes users from activating Alexa with a trigger word on Android phones and iOS devices. Still, the move feels like a natural extension of the services surrounding Alexa and Amazon’s Echo products.

There’s precedent for this sort of app on iOS too. Astra is a simple iOS utility that acts like an Echo device. It’s registered in the Alexa app alongside any Echo products you own. Pressing the microphone button lets you issue the same commands you can to an Echo. It remains to be seen what Amazon’s update to the Alexa app will mean for Astra, but in any event, it will be interesting to see where Amazon’s push into mobile leads.

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Apple and the Alexa Ecosystem

I recently read two interesting takes on the ever-growing Alexa ecosystem as it relates to Apple that made me think about the future of Siri and HomeKit. Here's M.G. Siegler on Amazon's plan to put Alexa everywhere:

The Echo Dot was the number one selling device across all of Amazon during the holiday shopping season. (The Fire TV stick with the Alexa-enabled remote was the second-most popular product.) Again, no absolute sales numbers beyond “tens of millions of Alexa-enabled devices” — more than we usually get, by the way — but no matter: tens of millions is impressive enough.

I’ve been thinking about this recently not just in the context of putting Echoes in hotels, but also relative to Apple. As we’re all well aware, Apple had to delay their foray into the space, the HomePod, into 2018. But not only did they miss the all-important holiday shopping season, I’m increasingly thinking that they may have missed the boat.

Believe me, I know how dangerous this line of thinking is with regard to Apple. Apple is almost never the first-mover in a market. Instead, they prefer to sit back and let markets mature enough to then swoop in with their effort, which more often than not is the best effort (this is both subjective in terms of my own taste, and often objective in terms of sales). But again, I increasingly don’t believe that this will be the case with their smart speaker.

Amazon has entered the speaker and home automation market with Alexa-enabled devices in two ways: first with their own Echo products, then with a growing roster of third-party manufacturers that are baking Alexa into their devices and almost treating Amazon's assistant as a "standard" feature like WiFi or Bluetooth. There's a fascinating parallel between Amazon Web Services – a suite of components embedded in the majority of modern websites and web apps – and Alexa Voice Service – a suite of voice APIs now embedded in hundreds of automation devices, general-purpose accessories and appliances, and web services.

Here's Ben Bajarin on what Alexa's presence at CES tells us about the ecosystem surrounding Apple:

While many Apple defenders want to dismiss the momentum we are observing with the Amazon ecosystem on display here at CES, while Amazon is similarly not present just like Apple, I believe it is a mistake to do so.

It is easy to say that because Apple was never present at CES that the show didn’t mean something to them or their ecosystem. It is easy, and correct to say that CES was not, or never was, a measure of the health of Apple’s products. It is, however, incorrect and dangerous to miss that CES had been, for some time, a barometer for the health of Apple’s ecosystem.

As I mentioned, our ability to measure any platforms ecosystem from what we observe at CES, is the main reason so many are paying attention to what is happening with Amazon’s Alexa platform. Google Assistant is certainly more present than it was last year, however, when you look at how third parties are talking about-and marketing-their support of these assistants they are putting significantly more effort into talking about Alexa than Google Assistant. Which is a telling signal. Again, to reiterate this point, third parties used to market, and spend energy talking about their integration with iOS or support of iPhone/iPad with the same rigor they are now talking about Amazon’s Alexa. This can not be ignored.

You could argue that most Apple-compatible gadgets and accessories announced at CES used to appear in tech blogs only to be forgotten a few months later because they were fads, vaporware, or ultimately not essential to the growth of the iOS ecosystem, and that the same will happen with Alexa-enabled devices we've seen this year. The difference, I think, is that this new generation of home automation products is an ecosystem in itself with higher value than, say, the iPad keyboards or stylii we used to see at CES. Alexa hasn't "won", but it has momentum among third-party companies making products that are or will soon be in our homes, sharing the same space of our TVs, routers, consoles, and mobile devices.

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Amazon Adopts ARKit in iOS Shopping App for Select Products

In an update released for its iOS shopping app, Amazon has introduced a new way of viewing items from the online retailer: AR View. Built on Apple's ARKit technology in iOS 11, AR View provides shoppers with a better understanding of how products will look when placed inside their homes.

AR View is accessed inside the Amazon app by tapping the camera button, then selecting AR View from the assortment of camera options. You'll then get to browse through a limited selection of product categories, such as Living Room, Kitchen, and Electronics; there's also a Top Picks section. Unlike the similar AR experience from IKEA Place, only one product can be previewed in Amazon's AR View at a time. After placing a product in AR, you can move its position or rotate it, and pressing the button with three dots will take you to the full product page for initiating a purchase.

Amazon claims that thousands of items are available in AR View, but currently only a fraction of that estimate appears for me inside the app; we should except the number of AR-compatible items to grow over the coming holiday shopping season. It also wouldn't be surprising to see AR View roll out to other parts of the app in the future, such that if you're viewing the product page for an Amazon Echo, for example, there will be a button that allows you to instantly view the item in AR.

Today's version of AR View is a first step toward enhancing the Amazon shopping experience with AR. There's plenty more work to be done, but it's exciting to see a glimpse into how transformative AR can potentially be for online shopping.


IKEA’s Trådfri Lighting System Adds HomeKit and Alexa Support

After a miscommunication in August, IKEA has added Alexa and HomeKit support to its Trådfri smart lighting system, which it originally promised back in May. The lighting system includes a gateway, remote controls, and LED lightbulbs that can be mixed and matched in different configurations at prices that are competitive with rival systems. For example, two Trådfri bulbs, a remote, and the required gateway costs $79.99 compared to two similar Philips Hue bulbs and a gateway for $69.99. Each gateway controls up to 10 lightbulbs using one of IKEA’s remotes, an iOS app, Amazon’s Alexa App, Apple’s Home app, or your voice via Amazon and Apple’s smart assistants.

The addition of Alexa and HomeKit support means the Trådfri lighting system can be integrated with smart home accessories from other companies and controlled with any Alexa or Siri-enabled device. The IKEA Trådfri app, which can be downloaded for free from the App Store, lets users control their Trådfri lights, customize settings like the warmth of the the light, and set timers.

The release of HomeKit-enabled devices has accelerated this year. An increasing number of manufacturers like IKEA are also hedging their bets by integrating Alexa support alongside HomeKit support, which is good for consumers who benefit whether they’ve chosen one system over the other or assembled a hybrid Alexa/HomeKit environment.


Amazon Introduces Cloud Cam and Key Delivery Service

Amazon has introduced a new Alexa-enabled home security camera called the Cloud Cam and an in-home delivery service for Prime members. The Cloud Cam is an Internet-connected smart camera that records video at 1080p resolution. Amazon is selling it as a stand-alone product and as part of its new in-home delivery service called Key.

The Cloud Cam, which will be controlled by a yet-to-be-released Cloud Cam app, is available for pre-order with shipments beginning on November 8th. One camera costs $119.99, but it can also be purchased in bundles of two for $199.99 and three for $289.99. Each camera support’s Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant, motion detection, two-way communication, night vision, and has a wide angle lens that saves video clips from the past 24 hours from up to three cameras. Amazon is also selling subscriptions that range in price from $6.99/month to $19.99/month for storing clips for a longer period, distinguishing between people and motion from other sources like pets, zone control, clip sharing, and connecting to more cameras.

Amazon’s Cloud Cam plays an important role in the company’s new US-only Key delivery service too. When paired with certain third-party smart locks, which Amazon is bundling with a Cloud Cam for $249.99, Prime customers can use their Cloud Cam and an iOS app to let Amazon Logistics’ delivery people unlock their home and leave packages inside. The service is currently limited to Amazon Logistics’ delivery people who make deliveries in 37 US cities. Key can also be used to grant home access to third-party services like house cleaners and dog walkers.

Prime members who sign up for Key will be alerted by a forthcoming Amazon Key app when a delivery driver arrives with a parcel and can watch the delivery live or view a recorded video clip later. Access can also be limited to certain times of the day and be granted on a one-off or recurring basis. When a delivery driver arrives, they scan the package’s bar code, which is transmitted to the cloud and in turn, starts the Cloud Cam and unlocks your door. After leaving the delivery inside, the driver locks your door with a swipe of an app.

The combination of Alexa support and the Key delivery service set the Cloud Cam apart from other smart home security cameras. Of course, the greatest difficulty for Amazon is likely to be convincing customers to trust delivery drivers to unlock their homes even if a camera is watching.


Kindle for iOS Redesigned with Clean, Streamlined Organization

Amazon's Kindle app for iOS received a major update today, bringing redesigned navigation tabs, a new light theme, and more. The change that excited me most, small as it may be, is the greatly improved app icon – it includes a beautiful new illustration, and the word Kindle has been removed.

The Kindle app now feels more at home on iOS, with a familiar navigation tab layout lining the bottom of the screen. The first tab, Library, is essentially what the main interface of the app was before – all your books are found there. The Library tab is cleaner and simpler now, as several options it formerly contained have been assigned to other areas of the app. The Goodreads and Discover pages, for example, now live in the main navigation bar as Community and Discover tabs, respectively. Extra items like settings and sync have been moved into the navigation bar's final tab, More. There's also now a search bar at the top of the screen that's accessible from nearly anywhere in the app. Overall, these layout changes make the app easier to navigate and less cluttered than before.

Joining the app's original dark theme, you can now turn on a light theme for the app; this navigation theme is separate from the reading theme, which has long had dark and light options. The light theme looks nice, and I plan to keep it turned on. Another change is that while reading, it's easier to get back to your library – the upper left corner contains a down-facing arrow that instantly closes your book.

I do nearly all of my book reading digitally, and I've long preferred reading in iBooks over Kindle due to it having the superior app in my mind. Today's update fixes several of the issues I've had with Kindle, but unfortunately there's one big problem outstanding: Kindle still doesn't support Split View on iPad. Once Amazon adds that to its app, I'll have less reason to always go with iBooks.


Amazon’s Alexa Adds Integration with iCloud Calendars

Mitchel Broussard of MacRumors shares an announcement from Amazon about a new Alexa skill for iCloud Calendar:

Starting today, you can now link your Apple iCloud Calendar to Alexa. To do this, iCloud Calendar customers can simply link their account in the settings tab in the Alexa app. Once linked, just say, “Alexa, what’s on my calendar today?” or “Alexa, add lunch with Sarah at noon to my calendar.”

iCloud Calendar support has been a top requested feature from Alexa customers, and we’re thrilled to bring this to Alexa devices in US, UK and Germany today.

It's nice to start seeing some of Apple's cloud offerings integrate with third-party services. Today's Alexa integration follows IFTTT's integrations earlier this year with iCloud Calendar and the App Store. Services as basic as iCloud Calendar shouldn't be restricted to Apple-made devices, so I'm thankful to see Apple opening up – even if it's just a little bit.

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Alexa Comes to the Amazon iOS App

Today Amazon announced that its digital assistant, Alexa, is being integrated with its iOS shopping app.

Using the app's current microphone button, which is available to the right of the search bar, users can make nearly any type of Alexa request. This request can consist of things you might ask of an Amazon Echo, such as playing music, turning on smart lights, checking the weather, and so on.

Both first-party and third-party skills will work from within the Amazon app. The one limitation so far, noted by Khari Johnson of VentureBeat, is that the Door Lock API is not currently available, so smart locks can't be controlled through the app. Johnson also shares that while Alexa will be available to some users in the Amazon app today, it will be rolling out to all users over the next week.

Today's announcement hopefully means that existing Amazon Echo users will have a solid first-party experience on iOS, something that surprisingly has not been provided by the company's current Amazon Alexa app. It also opens up Alexa to any Amazon customer who doesn't currently own an Echo.