Amazon takes a major step towards eliminating the need to say “ask” for custom smart home Alexa Skills

One of the confusing and cumbersome aspects of using Amazon’s Alexa to control smart home devices is the need to sometimes say “Alexa, ask…” before issuing a command. Prefacing a command with “ask” or “tell” is necessary when a smart home device manufacturer provides capabilities that go beyond what Amazon supports in their regular set of Alexa smart home control commands. Amazon is now allowing developers to extend the capabilities of regular smart home Alexa skills with extra functionality so that they don’t need to resort to a custom skill that requires the user to say “ask” before issuing an advanced command. Read more ›

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Alexa can now ask you questions to find the right music playlist

Amazon Music is launching a few new Alexa features to help find the best music to play. You can now say “Alexa, help me find a playlist” to prompt the voice assistant to ask you questions about what kind of music you’d like to listen to. After asking about the genre or tempo you want, you’ll hear sample tracks and receive followup questions to narrow down the right playlist choice. Read more ›

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Amazon to start crowdsourcing answers to questions that Alexa can’t answer

Amazon announced Alexa Answers today, which is a new effort to expand Alexa’s ability to answer questions by allowing customers to submit responses to unanswered questions. Customers will be able to browse questions asked by Alexa users and submit answers to those questions. When a future customer asks Alexa the same questions, they may receive the customer submitted answer as a response. Read more ›

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Amazon Fire HD tablets can now give Alexa Announcements and receive Drop-In calls

The Amazon Fire TV Cube just received an update that adds Alexa Announcement capabilities, but it’s not the only Amazon device receiving that feature. Amazon’s Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 10 tablets can now also broadcast Alexa Announcements if they are in Show Mode, which replicates most of the capabilities of an Echo Show. This is according to Engadget, which also says that Fire HD tablets in Show Mode can also now receive Alexa Drop-In calls. An update with these capabilities should be rolling out now. This brings the feature set of a Fire Tablet and Show Mode Dock even closer to that of the Echo Show.

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Apple Music is coming to Amazon Echo and Alexa devices next month

Amazon has announced that Apple Music will be available on Alexa devices, such as Echos and Fire TVs, on December 17th. Apple’s subscription streaming music offering is among the most popular services, thanks to the popularity of Apple’s mobile devices. This isn’t the first time Apple Music has been made available on non-Apple devices, since there is an Apple Music Android app, but Echo devices will be the first non-Apple smart speaker platform to natively support the service. Once an Apple Music Alexa skill is released, customers will only need to enable the skill and link their account to begin streaming Apple music through Alexa. All 50 million Apple Music tracks, including radio stations, like Apple’s live Beats 1 station, will be available through standard Alexa voice commands.

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How to stop an Alexa icon from quickly appearing and disappearing in the Android Notification Tray

If you have an Android phone and have the Alexa app installed on it, you may have noticed that a tiny Alexa icon will occasionally appear in the notification tray, to the left of the time, and then quickly disappear. If it annoys you, here is how to stop that from happening. Read more ›

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Amazon’s Alexa voice is being upgraded and gaining a separate Newscaster version

Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant will soon be gaining a slightly upgraded voice, as well as a separate new voice that will be used for newscasts, according to The Verge. Alexa’s existing voice uses concatenative speech synthesis. The new voice, which is still recognizable as Alexa’s voice, uses neural text-to-speech (NTTS). The new NTTS voice uses machine learning to generate expressive voices more quickly. Read more ›

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Pandora Premium is now available on Amazon Echo and other Alexa devices

Pandora has announced that their paid Pandora Premium subscription service is now available on Amazon Echo devices, as well as 3rd party Alexa devices. While Pandora is best known for their free radio-like music service that gives you limited control of what music plays, Pandora Premium is their answer to subscription music services like Spotify and Amazon Music Unlimited. If you pay $9.99 per month, you’ll be able to have full control over what you stream and when. Pandora Premium arrived on Fire TV devices at the start of the year through an updated Pandora app. Now you can select Pandora Premium as your default music service for Alexa devices and fully access the service through your smart speakers.

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Skype calling through Alexa is now available

Microsoft has just launched the Skype integration with Alexa that they announced earlier this year. To link the two services, simply go into the Alexa app and login with your Skype account under Settings > Communication > Skype. Once you do so, you’ll automatically earn 200 free Skype minutes. Placing Skype to Skype calls is always free, but the minutes are used if you want to use Skype to call a regular phone number. Read more ›

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Alexa Follow Up Mode and Voice Profiles are now available in the UK and beyond

Customers outside of the US are starting to receive some of Alexa’s more recently added capabilities. Follow Up mode, which allows customers to string together multiple requests without needing to say “Alexa” each time, has been spotted in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. It may be available in other new regions as well. Voice Profiles, which allow Alexa to identify the speaker and tailor responses to them, has made an appearance in the UK as well. Follow Up mode is enabled on a per-device basis, so head into the device settings of the Alexa app to see if it’s available for your Echo. Voice Profiles are an account-wide feature, so check for a “Recognized Voices” option under “Alexa Account” in the Alexa app to see if it’s available.

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