Amazon has been hard at work with their ongoing development of Alexa, the virtual assistant that powers many of the company's electronics and internet-of-things (IOT) products. The technology is fairly simple in operation: using any number of Amazon's products which support Alexa (e.g. Amazon Echo, Fire TV) users can ask the virtual assistant a long range of questions, to which Alexa will respond with direct answers or actions. For instance, you can ask general information about historical or contemporary figures, ask to play songs or albums from a particular artist, or ask for the conversion of one unit of measurement to another (e.g. how many ml in a cup) and Alexa will provide you with answers or perform certain activities . The results you get are fairly similar to what you'll find from other voice-powered virtual assistants like Google Voice Search, Siri or Cortana, but the program contains a level of polish that consumers have gravitated towards.
Amazon continues to expand Alexa's functionality across a range of products and services, with companies like Yelp! and Capital One bringing new functionality to the virtual assistant. That list now includes the popular fitness-focused wearables company, Fitbit, which recently brought some of their fitness-tracking capabilities to the program. Users can now ask Alexa certain questions pertaining to the data collected from their wearables, which might include any number of health-related inquiries. The virtual assistant can now answer questions like "how many steps did I take today" or "what's my heartrate" in significant detail (provided, of course, that the user has worn their device recently enough for it to provide that information). The new fitness-tracking integration should be massively appealing to fitness and health enthusiasts, and it gives Amazon even greater means to make Alexa more personal in how it interacts with its users.
Alexa is just one of many virtual assistants vying for relevancy in the steadily growing IOT sector. Google's parent-company, Alphabet, has their own ambitions in the burgeoning field as they continue to develop automated home technology via their Nest Labs division. The company already has products like its Nest learning thermostat and security cam, and while they haven't yet integrated those products with key Google services (i.e. Google Now / Voice Search), those changes will likely come as development continues. As smarthome systems continue to become more advanced and sophisticated, the functional integrations of virtual assistants will likely play a key role in their differentiation.