Categories
AI

Amazon gives Alexa a new iOS widget and the ability to assign reminders

Amazon has updated the Alexa app on iOS so that you can access the voice assistant right from your home screen via a new widget. Everyone can use the assistant to remind specific members of your household to do tasks through a new “assign reminders” skill.

Due to the somewhat restrictive nature of the widgets on iOS, the new Ask Alexa widget isn’t so much Alexa itself as it is a link directly to the iOS app. But if you have the Alexa widget placed on any of your screens and you’ve already given the Alexa app permission to use your iPhone’s mic, you’ll be able to start making requests with a tap.

The Ask Alexa widget in iOS.

And now those requests can get a bit more granular. Amazon’s given Alexa the ability to assign reminders to specific members of your household if they have an Alexa Profile set up on the same Amazon account. So if you say “Alexa, remind Jeff to take the lasagna out of the freezer at 10AM,” Alexa will be able to deliver the reminder to the right person, at the right time, provided they’re logged in to their Alexa app.

You can create an Alexa Profile (up to 10 per Amazon account) each time someone new logs in to the Alexa app for the first time. Amazon says you can assign relationship nicknames to each profile, like mom, dad, daughter, etc. Additional Voice Profiles can also be added in Settings, so Alexa can recognize who’s speaking and making reminders based on their voice.

Alexa picks up new features and skills on a monthly basis, but Amazon also announced plans in June to open up Alexa even further to third-party developers. Among many new APIs, developers will be able to create custom widgets for the Echo Show.

Update August 6th, 7:00PM ET: Added information from Amazon on creating Alexa Profiles.

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Categories
Computing

How to Control Alexa from Your Windows 10 PC

Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa is typically associated with smart devices, from Amazon’s own Echo smart speaker line to compatible TVs, air conditioners, and more. But we don’t always mention that Alexa works just as well on Windows 10 and Windows 11 computer, which can be extremely useful if you prefer to use a PC at home, but still want easy voice control for your smart devices or security routines. Let’s look at how to get those Alexa features on your Windows computer and what to do with them.

Step 1: Update everything

Check that your Windows computer is fully updated and ready to go. You can download Alexa on Windows 10 or Windows 11, but you’ll want to make sure the version you have has the latest updates. This helps with both security and compatibility.

Step 2: Download the Alexa app

Alexa App in Microsoft Store.

Microsoft has its own version of the Alexa app ready and waiting to be installed: Find the Alexa app on Microsoft’s site on your Windows PC, and select Get (or sometimes Install) to start the download. When the download is finished (Alexa doesn’t take up that much room), select Launch to begin.

Step 3: Set up Alexa

Alexa Setup Screen on PC.

Alexa will now start a setup wizard on your PC. Begin by selecting Get Started.

Alexa Sign In PC.

Then sign in with your Amazon account information.

Alexa Wake Word on PC.

The wizard will run you through a series of questions about how you want to use Alexa. When appropriate, select Agree & Continue to move on through the prompts. When you reach the Wake Word page, make sure the Wake Word is enabled — this makes Alexa much easier to use on a PC, and allows you to give her commands even if you are on the other side of the room. Select Allow at this point.

You will also have the option to start Alexa upon login, and to pin the Alexa app to your toolbar (it will look like a small, bluish circle). If you are intending to use your PC as your primary Alexa device for issuing voice commands and controlling your smart home, it’s a good idea to enable both these options. Select Finish when you are ready. Now, select Get Started once more, and the Alexa app will open with plenty of ideas about how to start using it. You’ll be asked to enable a few other capabilities at this point, but Alexa is installed and ready to go.

At some point, Alexa will also ask if you want to enable the voice assistant on the lock screen. This means Alexa can wait for the Wake Word even if your PC has locked and gone to screensaver. This feature can be useful if you plan on giving voice commands from around the room, not just when you are using Windows.

Step 4: Experiment with Windows-based voice commands

Alexa Home Screen PC.

Alexa can do plenty on your PC immediately, so it’s a good idea to find useful commands you can use throughout the day. The Alexa app home screen will list places to get started if you aren’t sure, and the Things to Try section is a great follow-up. As always, the standard “Alexa” wake word is necessary for any command.

Amazon Alexa on PC example.

We suggest trying commands like asking Alexa to make a reminder, look at your calendar, or add something to a shopping list. You can also play music of your choice with the right music services connected to Alexa. You can choose to call or drop in on people on your contact list, and with Show Mode enabled, you can turn these calls into a video chat, too. You can also ask Alexa a range of questions, from what the weather will be like today to what’s a good video for cooking broccoli. We have a guide on setting up Alexa that can help you learn more, and Amazon has a few ideas as well.

Step 5: Connect your smart devices to Alexa and use them

Alexa Set Up New Device.

You can also use Alexa on your PC to control any connected smart devices. Alexa has excellent compatibility with many popular smart device brands. but they need to be connected to the Alexa app in order for them to work.

The good news is that if you have connected any smart devices to Alexa in the past, Alexa on PC will automatically add them and allow you to control them. The bad news is that you can’t add new smart home devices to Alexa using the PC app. Instead, you should download the mobile Alexa app and add devices there. We have a guide to help you connect your smart home using an Echo. Then you can go even further and start setting up routines, downloading specific Alexa skills for games or services, and lots more!

Editors’ Choice




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Tech News

Ring Car Cam leaks: This could be Amazon’s Alexa dash-cam

Details and what appears to be an image of Ring’s upcoming Car Cam have leaked, with the connected dash cam expected to add security both when the vehicle is parked and while it’s on the move. The newest addition to Ring’s line-up was actually announced in September 2020 as part of Amazon’s big device launch, though at the time no pictures of the Car Cam hardware itself were shared.

Still, Ring’s description painted a fairly comprehensive picture of what it was intended to do. As well as tracking bumps and attempted break-ins, and notifying owners via the Ring smartphone app, it can also be used to record journeys and summon emergency services in the case of an accident being detected.

If you’re being pulled over by the police, meanwhile, saying “Alexa, I’m being pulled over” will automatically begin video and audio recording. At the same time as that’s being uploaded to the cloud, the system will send a notification to pre-selected family members to let them know the stop has taken place. Ring said there would be a physical privacy shutter, too, and a choice of WiFi or LTE connectivity. The whole thing would be $199.99, though cellular plans would be on top of that.

Since then, we’ve not heard anything more about the new dash camera. A leak on The Tape Drive, though, has revealed what it could look like, and it’s certainly an unusual design.

The camera assembly looks to be mounted on some sort of bracket, either to be positioned above the dashboard or potentially hung from above the rearview mirror. There’s presumably a fish-eye camera on both sides – only visible from one side in the render – to capture footage both inside and outside of the car.

As for functionality, ZatzNotFunny spotted a seemingly prematurely-published Ring Car Cam information document on the company’s support site. It reconfirms some of the details which Ring told us late last year, but also adds a few extra tidbits.

For example, the camera will connect via the vehicle’s data port, not just hook up to a USB or 12V outlet for power. “Ring Car Cam easily installs directly to the OBD-II port in your vehicle, located behind your steering wheel in most cars,” Ring explains. “It securely attaches to the windshield and dashboard of the car, and the cable can be neatly tucked away and out of sight.”

It’s unclear what extra data Ring might be gathering by using that approach. The OBD-II port typically grants access to various driving metrics, and though originally intended as a way for vehicle technicians to diagnose faults and issues in increasingly computerized models, has also gained traction as a way for third-party devices to tap that same stream of information. Amazon had also announced Ring Car Alarm, a cellularly-connected dongle that plugs into the ODB-II port.

The Ring Car Cam itself won’t require a subscription, though you won’t get all of the features in that case. “You can access video stored locally on the device via the Ring app when the car is within range of wifi,” the company explains. “With an optional Ring connectivity plan, you can access video from anywhere via LTE as well as advanced features like Emergency Crash Assist.”

The connectivity plan for Ring Car Cam will also unlock features like real-time tracking, to help locate a stolen vehicle.

What remains to be seen is how Ring Car Cam will fit into Ring’s existing sharing policies with police departments. The Amazon-owned company has found itself mired in controversy in recent years, after inking deals with law enforcement that saw many requests for footage from connected security cameras and video doorbells. Ring had been accused of fueling privacy infringement and supporting racial profiling.

Earlier this month, the company announced a new policy around sharing with public safety and law enforcement agencies. Moving forward, such agencies will ahem to request information or video from communities through a publicly-viewable category on Ring’s Neighbors app. This new section, “Request for Assistance,” will allow communities to see just what sort of data is being shared, Ring says.

“All Request for Assistance posts will be publicly viewable in the Neighbors feed, and logged on the agency’s public profile,” Ring explains. “This way, anyone interested in knowing more about how their police agency is using Request for Assistance posts can simply visit the agency’s profile and see the post history.”

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Categories
AI

Amazon Alexa head scientist on developing trustworthy AI systems

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Particularly over the past half-century, humans have had to adapt to profound technological changes like the internet, smartphones, and personal computers. In most cases, adapting to the technology has made sense — we live in a far more globalized world compared with 50 years ago. But there’s a difference when it comes to AI and machine learning technologies. Because they can learn about people and conform to their needs, the onus is on AI adapting to users rather than the other way around — at least in theory.

Rohit Prasad, head scientist at Amazon’s Alexa division, believes that the industry is at an inflection point. Moving forward, it must ensure that AI learns about users in the same ways users learn so that a level of trust is maintained, he told VentureBeat in a recent phone interview.

One of the ways Amazon’s Alexa team hopes to inject AI with greater trust, and personalization,  is by incorporating contextual awareness, like the individual preferences of Alexa users in a household or business. Starting later this year, users will be able to “teach” Alexa things like their dietary preferences — so that Alexa only suggests vegetarian restaurants and recipes, for example — by applying this information to future interactions.

“Alexa will set the expectation about where this preference information will be used and be very transparent about what it learns and reuses, helping to build tighter trust with the customer,” Prasad said. “These are the benefits to this.”

Toxicity and privacy

Fostering trust hasn’t always been the Alexa team’s strong suit. In 2019, Amazon launched Alexa Answers, a service that allows any Amazon customer to submit responses to unanswered questions. Amazon gave assurances that submissions would be policed through a combination of automatic and manual review, but VentureBeat’s analyses revealed that untrue, misleading, and offensive questions and answers were served to millions of Alexa users. In April 2019, Bloomberg revealed that Amazon employs contract workers to annotate thousands of hours of audio from sometimes accidentally activated Alexa devices, prompting the company to roll out user-facing tools that quickly delete cloud-stored data. And researchers have claimed that Amazon runs afoul of its own developer rules regarding location privacy on Alexa devices.

In response to questions about Alexa Answers, Prasad said that Amazon has “a lot of work [to do]” on guardrails and ranking the answers to questions while filtering information that might be insensitive to a user. “We know that [Alexa devices] are often in a home setting or communal setting, where you can have different age groups of people with different ethnicities, and we have to be respectful of that,” he said.

Despite the missteps, Alexa has seen increased adoption in the enterprise over the past year, particularly in hospitality and elder care centers, Prasad says. He asserts that one of the reasons is Alexa’s ability to internally route requests to the right app, a capability that’s enabled by machine learning.

The enterprise has experienced an uptick in voice technology adoption during the pandemic. In a recent survey of 500 IT and business decision-makers in the U.S., France, Germany, and the U.K., 28% of respondents said they were using voice technologies, and 84% expect to be using them in the next year.

“[Alexa’s ability] to decide the best experience [is] being extended to the enterprise, and I would say is a great differentiator, because you can have many different ways of building an experience by many different enterprises and individual developers,” Prasad said. “Alexa has to make seamless requests, which is a very important problem we’re solving.”

Mitigating bias

Another important — albeit intractable — problem Prasad aims to tackle is inclusive design. While natural language models are the building blocks of services including Alexa, growing evidence shows that these models risk reinforcing undesirable stereotypes. Detoxification has been proposed as a fix for this problem, but the coauthors of newer research suggest even this technique can amplify rather than mitigate biases.

The increasing attention on language biases comes as some within the AI community call for greater consideration of the effects of social hierarchies like racism. In a paper published last June, Microsoft researchers advocated for a closer examination and exploration of the relationships between language, power, and prejudice in their work. The paper also concluded that the research field generally lacks clear descriptions of bias and fails to explain how, why, and to whom specific bias is harmful.

On the accessibility side, Prasad points to Alexa’s support for text messages, which lets users type messages rather than talk to Alexa. Beyond this, he says that the Alexa team is investigating “many” different ways Alexa might better understand different kinds of speech patterns.

“[Fairness issues] become very individualized. For instance, if you have a soft voice, independent of your gender or age group, you may struggle to get Alexa to wake up for you,” Prasad said. “This is where more adaptive thresholding can help, for example.”

Prasad also says that the team has worked to remove biases in Alexa’s knowledge graphs, or the databases that furnish Alexa with facts about people, places, and things. These knowledge graphs, which are automatically created, could reinforce biases in the data they contain like “nurses are women” and “wrestlers are men.”

“It’s early work, but we’ve worked incredibly hard to reduce those biases,” Prasad said.

Prasad believes that tackling these challenges will ultimately lead to “the Holy Grail” in AI: a system that understands how to handle all requests appropriately without manual modeling or human supervision. Such a system would be more robust to variability, he says, and enable users to teach it to perform new skills without the need for arduous engineering.

“[With Alexa,] we’re taking a very pragmatic approach to generalized intelligence,” he said. “The biggest challenge to me as an AI researcher is building systems that perform well but that can also be democratized such that anyone can build a great experience for their applications.”

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Categories
AI

Amazon opens Alexa AI tech for the first time so car makers can build custom assistants

Amazon will now allow third-party companies the unprecedented privilege of accessing the core artificial intelligence underpinning its Alexa digital assistant, a first for the company’s AI platform.

While Amazon has allowed companies to build skills for Alexa and allows pretty much any consumer electronic device maker to integrate Alexa into a compatible product, the e-commerce giant has not licensed the underlying AI tech for use in other assistant-like products. Amazon is calling the new offering Alexa Custom Assistant, and it’s starting out with a focus on the auto market.

Amazon is doing so to allow not just automobile manufacturers, but any company with a need for a digital voice assistant more control over the software experience. This will allow companies to create their own wake words and custom voices and capabilities Amazon says will “co-exist” with Alexa as it’s designed to work today. For the auto market, this provides Amazon the added benefit of having its software built directly into cars.

“Building an intelligent assistant is complex, time-consuming, and costly. Further, the rate of innovation and change is accelerating and assistants are always improving and getting smarter, requiring substantial ongoing investments,” the company explains in a blog post. “The Alexa Custom Assistant addresses this challenge by allowing companies to leverage Alexa’s world-class technology stack to create their own intelligent assistant without the investment, long development cycles, and resources to build it from scratch and maintain over time.”

Amazon says companies will get access to custom wake words that use “the same state-of-the-art process” used for developing new Alexa wake words. Companies can create their own unique voices for the assistants with help from “voice science experts” from Amazon that will help manage the recording process and the machine learning-based algorithms to build out the voice library.

The screens and software experiences inside car have proven to be a ripe market for companies like Amazon, Apple, and Google. But only the latter two tech giants have their own mobile operating systems that allow for plug-in platforms like Apple’s CarPlay and Google’s Android Auto. Amazon has struck some deals with car makers, most recently with Lamborghini and electric vehicle startup Rivian at CES 2021 earlier this week, for direct Alexa integrations, and Amazon’s Echo Auto platform can be accessed via a mobile app or through a dongle you plug into your car. But these aren’t quite as seamless as the competition offered by Apple and Google.

So much like how Amazon has strategically worked around its disadvantage on mobile phones, where Siri and Google Assistant reign supreme, to carve out a dominant position in the smart home, it’s now trying to better position Alexa as a built-in solution in environments that may not require a phone at all, thereby bypassing the need to compete directly with Apple and Google.

The first company that has agreed to build its own Alexa-based assistant is car maker Fiat Chrysler (FCA), which has had an ongoing relationship with Amazon to integrate some of its technology, like Amazon Fire TV-powered screens, into its cars. Financial terms of any arrangement between Amazon and FCA were not disclosed, and it’s not clear whether Amazon is charging car makers to license the AI tech rather than giving it out freely.

Regardless, Amazon also says its intentions are to give all companies, not just automakers, a faster, cheaper, and less complex route to building their own voice experiences that feel tailor-made, instead of simply bolting on an integration with a third-party service.

Alexa Custom Assistant also lets the custom’s AI products stay in control of and dictate information about special features, while Alexa can handle more general app-related requests like music playback and directions. “For example, if a customer asks Alexa to roll down a car window, or how to troubleshoot a device, the request will be routed to the brand’s assistant. If a customer asks the brand’s assistant to play an audio book, the request will be routed to Alexa,” the blog reads.

Amazon says Alexa Custom Assistant will be available starting today to companies in the US and Canada, as well as in Australia, Austria, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, and Spain.

Update January 15th, 8:46AM ET: Added additional information about Alexa Custom Assistant and how it’s available for more than just car makers.

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Categories
Tech News

Amazon’s weird Alexa sticky note printer will start shipping this summer

If you were one of the people who pledged to buy the Smart Sticky Note Printer introduced as one of Amazon’s Day 1 Edition concepts, good news: the device will start shipping later this summer. As expected, the tiny portable printer can be used to print out reminders on-demand using Alexa voice commands, as well as puzzles, recipes, and similar things.

Amazon Day 1 Edition products are essentially unique concepts that may one day become something you can purchase, assuming there’s enough interest. Earlier this year, Amazon introduced its Smart Sticky Note Printer concept, a small device that resembles a label maker or receipt printer — but that can be used with your smart speaker to organize your life.

Users can, for example, tell Alexa to print a note about an upcoming event or task, then retrieve it from the printer and stick it wherever they’re likely to see it. For those times you’re bored, the printer can also produce a small puzzle to keep you entertained, as well as reminders, to-do lists, shopping lists, and similar things.

The Alexa printer proved popular and received enough order pledges to head into production. You can no longer order the device, but those who did buy one can expect the shipping to start at some point between July and September, according to Amazon.

It’s unclear whether Amazon plans to make the printer available to order as a regular Alexa product. Though the printer was a success, not all concepts reach their goals. Examples of recent failed Day 1 Edition products include the Smart Cuckoo Clock, which looks like a minimalist wall clock with Alexa support, as well as the Alexa-powered Smart Nutrition Scale.

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Game

Alexa Xbox skill lets you download Game Pass titles from anywhere

They say that inspiration can strike anywhere, sometimes when you’re not at the place where you needed that inspiration in the first place. That works not just for creative activities but even for ideas on what game you want to play next. When that happens away from your PC or console, you’ll have to remember to take note of it for later. If you have an Xbox Game Pass subscription and an Alexa-powered device, however, you can simply just ask Amazon’s smart assistant to download that game for you, even while you’re on a run outside.

Amazon last month surprised Xbox owners with the addition of an Alexa app for the console. It allowed owners of Xbox consoles and Echo devices to have some visual feedback for some of Alexa’s skills. That includes not just seeing the weather but also view smart cameras connected to Amazon’s smart speakers.

Ironically, Alexa didn’t have any gaming-specific skills, at least until now. Amazon announced what is the first gaming partnership that will allow Alexa to download games with just their voice. Using any Alexa-powered device, like Echo Buds or an Echo Auto, you can ask the smart assistant to download any Xbox Game Pass title to your console, ready for you when you get back home or in your living room.

The Alexa Xbox skill, however, can do more than just download games. It can also inform players of what’s hot on the Xbox Game Pass library as well as which titles will be leaving soon. Querying the Xbox Game Pass catalog doesn’t require linking Alexa with your Xbox account but downloading any game does.

This feature is, of course, available only if you have an Xbox Game Pass subscription. But while Xbox Game Pass itself is available in 41 countries worldwide, the ability to download games via Alexa is available only for US customers.

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Categories
AI

Alexa will soon be able to launch Android and iOS apps using voice commands

Amazon is working on a new feature for its Alexa voice assistant that will let the software launch Android and iOS apps using voice commands, a first for Amazon’s assistant and a bold expansion of its strategy to position Alexa as a platform-agnostic alternative to Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant. Called Alexa for Apps, the new feature is launching today in preview form, meaning Amazon is working with select developers on how they’d like to make use of it.

For instance, Amazon imagines users on either an iPhone or an Android device asking Alexa to open Twitter and search for a hashtag, and the app would then let the companion Alexa skill do the work of launching the app and inputting the search term. The results would then show up on the phone instead of being read aloud. Another example Amazon gives is using a voice request to launch TikTok and start a hands-free video recording (in the event you’re filming yourself).

It’s a new type of interaction Amazon is hoping could catch on and help better position Alexa as a viable competitor to digital assistants from Apple and Google, both of which are deeply baked into their respective operating systems and have richer access to apps and system-level features as a result. Amazon tried and failed to launch its own phone back in 2014 using a forked version of Android. And while its tablets, Echo family of devices, and Fire TV line of streaming devices continue to use more advanced versions of that forked OS, Amazon still struggles with the fact that it cannot directly reach consumers on mobile devices without going through Apple and Google first.

Hampering the adoption of such a feature is the fact that, while Alexa may be more widespread in the smart home, developers already have to manage two competing digital assistants that are much more widely used on phones. You can already use Siri to order an Uber or ask Google Assistant to play an episode of BoJack Horseman on Netflix. App makers now have to tailor these integrations to work with Alexa to support the feature — or at the very least, take Alexa skills (if they exist) and reorient them to work for the new app launching format. But that’s why Amazon is launching in preview form before making it more widely available as a beta and then as fully baked feature ready for consumers.

Amazon has a bunch of other Alexa news announcements today coinciding with its Alexa Live presentation. Those include a beta for a more powerful conversational AI model for Alexa that will allow users to talk more naturally to the assistant and updates to the technology used to build Alexa experiences (called APL) that will enable improved audio apps better browser-based Alexa games.

Amazon is also launching a skill resumption feature so you can pause for a bit to continue performing a task and check in with Alexa on the progress of a previous request. Lastly, Amazon is flaunting a quick links feature in beta that will let developers launch Alexa skills from mobile apps, websites, and even ads as well as the ability to make purchases on Echo devices with screens or from Amazon.com.

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Categories
AI

Amazon’s Alexa will now guess what skills you want to use based on your questions

Finding new ways to use Amazon’s Alexa has always been a bit of a pain. Amazon boasts that its AI assistant has more than 100,000 skills, but most are garbage and the useful ones are far from easy to discover. Today, though, Amazon announced it’s launched a new way to surface skills: by guessing what users are after when they talk to Alexa about other tasks.

The company refers to this process as “[inferring] customers’ latent goals.” By this, it means working out any questions that are implied by other queries. Amazon gives the example of a customer asking “How long does it take to steep tea?” to which Alexa will answer “five minutes” before asking the follow-up: ”Would you like me to set a timer for five minutes?”

This all sounds well and good, but it’s not hard to imagine this feature (which is already available to Alexa customers in English in the United States) potentially becoming quite annoying. If Alexa infers a user’s intent incorrectly and suggests an unwanted skill, then that person is bound to feel irritated, as if they’re being advertised to by their digital butler.

Amazon gave The Verge a number of example scenarios of follow-up questions (below), and said that other skills that feed into the system include Bark Like a Dog, Earth Cam, Harry Potter Trivia, Historical Voices, Slow Speller, Xbox, and Zoo Keeper. Some of these scenarios will be useful for users, but others less so. It’s a bit of a mixed bag really.

CNBC

Customer: What’s the stock price of {X}?
Alexa: When the market closed on Monday, {X} traded at $201.15, down 1.99% since the previous close.
Alexa: Would you like to know the intraday high for {X} from the CNBC skill?

TED Talks

Customer: What happened today in history?
Alexa: On May 18, 1980…
Alexa: By the way, I can search for talks on history in the TED Talk skill. Want me to pull them up?

Ultimate History Quiz

Customer: When did the second world war end?
Alexa: The Second World War ended on September 2, 1945.
Alexa: Want to test your history knowledge with Ultimate History Quiz?

Whether this new function will be useful or irritating will depend on its implementation, but it’s part of Amazon’s long-term goal to make talking to Alexa more natural. Earlier this year, the company announced new abilities for the AI assistant including the ability to ask clarifying questions, changing the tone of its voice, and a new “conversation” mode in which Alexa engages with multiple participants.

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AI

Amazon introduces choreographed motions with Alexa Presentation Language 1.6

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Amazon today unveiled a new version of its Alexa Presentation Language (APL), the visual design framework that allows developers to build visual apps on Alexa-enabled devices. This new version includes support for three choreographed motions on the Echo Show 10, the first-party Alexa-enabled device with a motorized base that was released last month. Also in tow is improved support for Fire tablets and custom on-screen transitions, as well as faster animations.

The pandemic appears to have supercharged voice app usage, which was already on an upswing. According to a study by NPR and Edison Research, the percentage of voice-enabled device owners who use commands at least once a day rose between the beginning of 2020 and the start of April. Just over a third of smart speaker owners say they listen to more music, entertainment, and news from their devices than they did before, and owners report requesting an average of 10.8 tasks per week from their assistant this year compared with 9.4 different tasks in 2019. According to a new report from Juniper Research, consumers will interact with voice assistants on 8.4 billion devices by 2024.

APL became generally available in September 2019, and it supports all Alexa devices with screens, including Fire TV devices. This latest release better supports multimodal apps at a time when multimodal app usage on Alexa devices is on the rise. Amazon says that on average, APL-based multimodal apps are seeing more than 3 times the number of monthly active users compared with voice-only apps. Moreover, apps that have implemented APL video have nearly double the customer engagement of voice-only apps, according to the company.

Echo Show 10

The new choreographed motions in APL (version 1.6), which Amazon calls “choreos,” are:

  • MixedExpressiveShakes: A quick, bouncing motion on both right and left sides
  • ClockwiseMediumSweep: A measured, clockwise sweeping motion
  • CounterClockwiseSlowSweep: A slow, counterclockwise sweeping motion

Amazon says the choreos were created by designers working from home during the pandemic. The inspiration, testing, and final designs were completed outside the office, starting from sketches, and came together in about six weeks.

APL 1.6 also introduces a change to the APL authoring tool that enables it to convert Lottie files into Alexa Vector Graphics (AVG). (Lottie is an open source animation file format popular among web designers,)  Once converted, the AVGs can be used in an app’s visual responses.

Amazon has also increased the limit for visual app responses from 24KB to 120KB to support “even more complex and engaging customer experiences.” Beyond this, the company says it has expanded APL beyond Show Mode on supported Fire tablet — the mode that effectively takes Fire tablet displays full-screen. APL 1.6 lets developers create custom layouts for new screen sizes and adapt their responses as devices flip between portrait and landscape orientations.

APL 1.6 is generally available starting today.

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