Amazon expands program that pays Alexa skill developers

Earlier this year, Amazon introduced a program that pays developers of the most popular Alexa skill games. Today they’ve announced that the rewards program is expanding to now include Alexa skills in six more categories. Developers of Alexa skills in the categories Education & Reference, Food & Drink, Health & Fitness, Lifestyle, Music & Audio, and Productivity will now also earn money if their skills receive enough engagement. Amazon has still not revealed specifics on how much can be earned, but they will use metrics such as the total minutes a skill is used, the number of new customers, the number of recurring customers, the skill’s customer ratings, and more to determine how much a developer is paid each month. One Alexa developer tells TechCrunch that he estimates the top skill in a category receives about $5,000 each month, #6 gets about $2,000, #7 gets about $1,000, and #300 gets about $100.

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Amazon Fire TV Edition televisions gain new option to turn on with Alexa

When Amazon made it possible for stand-alone Alexa devices, like the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot, to control the Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, control of Fire TV Edition televisions was not quite ready initially. It is now possible to control the televisions with Alexa as well and Amazon has added a new option in the TV’s settings menu to allow Alexa to turn on the TV. In order for Alexa to turn on the TV, it must remain in a low power state, similar to the Fire TV and Fire TV Stick’s sleep mode, so having the feature enabled will consume a little more power than usual while the TV is off. If you don’t plan to use Alexa to turn on your Fire TV Edition television, it’s probably a good idea to turn the feature off. You can do so from the Settings > Alexa menu on the TV. With the option enabled, giving any Alexa command that relates to your TV, like “Alexa, launch YouTube,” will power on the TV if it is off. Of course, you can also just say “Alexa, turn on Fire TV” if you prefer. See here for a list of other commands that can be used.

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UE Boom 2 and UE Megaboom portable speakers now have Alexa

The UE Boom 2 and UE Megaboom are among the most popular portable Bluetooth speakers available and now they’re even better with the addition of Alexa capabilities. Ultimate Ears has released a software update to their speakers that adds access to Amazon’s voice assistant directly from the speaker. Once configured, you just tap the Bluetooth button on the speaker and speak Alexa commands into the speaker’s microphone. The option to use Alexa is only available through UE’s Android app at this time. That seems to imply that the speaker must be connected to a phone for Alexa to work, but their help pages don’t make it clear if that’s the case or not. If that is the case, it’s distinctly different from the Amazon Tap which truly has Alexa built into the speaker without needing a phone. Either way, if you want access to Alexa through a much better sounding portable speaker than anything Amazon offers, the UE Boom 2 and UE Megaboom are definitely the way to go.

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Ikea’s inexpensive smart bulbs are now compatible with Amazon’s Alexa

Ikea entered the home automation market earlier this year with a new line of products called TRÅDFRI, which means “wireless” in Swedish. With a hub that costs just $29.99 and smart bulbs that start at $11.99, they are among the least expensive ways to add smart lights to your home. At launch, the product line only worked with Ikea’s app and $14.99 physical remote, which greatly limited their appeal. Now the TRÅDFRI has gained compatibility with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, as well as Apple HomeKit and Google Home, making them much more appealing to Amazon Echo and Fire TV owners.

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Anker to release $35 Alexa speaker to compete with Amazon’s Echo Dot

Anker, best known for their USB chargers and battery packs, has been expanding their product line into home goods under their new Eufy brand. Those products have mostly been vacuums and lights, but they’ve now announced the Eufy Genie, which is an Alexa smart speaker that closely resembles the Amazon Echo Dot in both appearance and features. With a retail price of only $34.99, the Genie undercuts the Echo Dot by $15 and has the potential for being a good alternative to Amazon’s own hardware. Read more ›

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Amazon Echo whole-home-audio testing complete and ready to be released

It appears as though Amazon is close to enabling a whole-home-audio feature that will allow customers to synchronize music playback across multiple Amazon Echo and Echo Dot devices, according to a source who has spoken to German blog Caschys (transalation). The blog, which has correctly surfaced information about unreleased Amazon devices and features in the past, claims that internal tests of the new feature have been successful and that we can probably expect the feature to be released soon. Read more ›

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Alexa compatible security camera built with Raspberry Pi

The selection of security cameras that work with Alexa is already impressively large, especially considering the integration has only been available for a little over a month. With these cameras, you can ask Alexa to view their live feed on the Amazon Echo Show and soon on Fire TV devices, but if the selection seems pricey, you can build your own using a Raspberry Pi.

Sam Machin has built his own camera that’s compatible with Alexa’s live feed viewing feature. He’s the one who created the first web interface for Alexa, as well as a $10 Echo and other interesting Alexa hacks. Using a Raspberry Pi, a camera module, and some code that he has published on GitHub, Machin has rolled his own camera that can be called up at will on the Echo Show. He has provided instructions on GitHub for how to make your own Alexa compatible camera.

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Alexa can now play music for over 500 activity utterances

Amazon’s Alexa has always been able to identify certain music requests that go along with activities, like asking for music that works well for a dinner party, but now Amazon has greatly expanded Alexa’s ability to understand activities and match them with appropriate music. Amazon doesn’t seem to have provided a complete list, but there are apparently now over 500 “activity utterances” that Alexa understands. These activities include things like music for cooking, sleeping, meditation, and much more. Amazon says Alexa can also provide music for more interesting activities, like music for “hooking up” or “baby making music,” so feel free to get creative with your requests. You can also pair an activity with a genre, like rock music for cooking or classical music to focus, in order to get music tailored closer to your taste. This new ability for Alexa works with Amazon’s Prime Music and Music Unlimited services.

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Tip: Use “sight-based” commands when controlling the Amazon Fire TV through an Alexa device

The unfortunate reality is that with each new capability that Alexa gains, it becomes more likely that Amazon’s voice assistant will execute a command in an unintend way. Now that Alexa can be used to remotely control the Amazon Fire TV, Fire TV Stick, and Fire TV Edition televisions, users are finding that many of the new Fire TV commands overlap with existing commands. If you were to say “Alexa, play Nightcrawler” there is no way to know if the Jake Gyllenhaal movie from 2014 will begin playing on your Fire TV or if any one of the dozens of songs of the same name will begin playing on the Alexa device. One solution to this problem is to always end your command with “…on Fire TV” but there is a more elegant solution, which is to use sight-based commands whenever possible. Read more ›

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How linking Alexa devices to the Amazon Fire TV, Fire TV Stick, or Fire TV Edition television works

It has long been one of the most requested features, but Alexa devices like the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot can now finally be used to control the Amazon Fire TV, Fire TV Stick, and Fire TV Edition television. If you have multiple Alexa devices and/or multiple Fire TV devices, things have the potential to get a little confusing, so Amazon has created a linking process that allows you to assign specific Alexa devices to specific Fire TV devices. Here’s what that process looks like and how it works. Read more ›

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