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Everyone has been excited by the announcement of the Amazon Echo Show, an Alexa-powered device that features a screen, but there was an equally disruptive part of today’s news.
Amazon just released free audio messaging, text messaging, and calling between all Alexa devices, as well as the Amazon Alexa mobile app.
A New Life for the Alexa App
Until now, the Alexa app hasn’t been super useful. It has been more of a settings section for your devices, allowing you to manage preferences, enable third-party skills, or link accounts to those skills. But with the addition of messaging, Alexa will now have an increased presence and importance on the smartphone. Add to this the recent addition of Alexa to the main Amazon app, and it’s clear Amazon is making a decisive play for our homescreen.
Connecting to Alexa Calling and Messaging
If you update the Amazon Alexa smartphone app, you will be presented with a setup wizard letting you know you can now use Alexa to call or message friends and family.
You’ll then be prompted to confirm who you are (based on the user profiles connected to your Household), and give Amazon permission to send you notifications, calls, and messages. From there, you enter your phone number and allow Amazon to check your address book for other Alexa users you might be connected to. The phone number is primarily used as a unique ID, as the messages and calls all happen within the Alexa platform itself (which means you can’t have Alexa call a phone number. Yet.)
As I registered early, I had only one other contact listed. You can then send audio messages, text messages, or make calls with your contacts through your Alexa devices, or the Alexa app.
So when someone leaves you a message, or is calling your device, how do you know?
Alexa now has a green ring
Amazon Echo devices feature a lighted ring across the top of the device. The familiar blue ring is lit when talking to Alexa, to indicate she is listening or speaking. A red ring is displayed when the device is muted. The palette has now expanded to include a green ring.
The green ring is used in two ways:
Messages — The green ring pulses every five seconds to indicate that a message is waiting for you.
Calling – When making a call, the green ring pulses for the duration of the call. When someone is calling your device, the green ring pulses and Alexa announces who is calling.
It’s worth noting that as this ring is powered by RGB LED lights, any color could be created and new ones will surely find their way onto the devices.
Initial Thoughts on Impact
The first thing I thought about when I saw this announcement was that Amazon just reintroduced long-abandoned landlines and voicemail. But I believe the bigger story here is that Alexa now supports messaging and notifications. They haven’t released the APIs and docs that allow third-party developers to integrate with these new features, but it seems likely that they will, which will open up a world of possibilities.
Senior care —with notifications and messaging, you could now set automated reminders for certain tasks, like taking medication or performing mobility exercises. You can also now connect to a human operator just by asking, if you needed a high level of care. On the provider side, you could check to see if messages are being opened and reviewed, and whether the senior was engaging with the platform.
Enterprise — much has been written about voice assistants being used in offices. When there are Alexa devices in every conference room in a distributed company, calls can happen, for free, with no need to dial-in numbers or codes. You can simply ask to call the other conference room. Add the ability to talk to Alexa during the call, and you have a virtual assistant who can take notes, send off action items to other coworkers, or check last week’s sales numbers, all as a participant on the call.
Social gaming — notifications will open up an entire new category of asynchronous gaming. Similar to Words with Friends, playing a game with a friend, and being notified each time they have taken their turn, will lead to voice-only games and stories that will be played with others. Games are already the second largest category on Alexa, and will only continue to get bigger.
Messaging and Notifications will be big
Notifications has been one of the most requested features by third-party developers since Alexa was first launched. Messaging changes the way that companies and individuals can communicate across the platform. Together, these two new features will make the growing category of voice applications even more impactful.