Amazon announced a slew of updates for Alexa today, with one of the more headlining features being the ability to call local businesses for you. According to Amazon, you will be able to search for and call local businesses within Alexa, using your voice now. You can say something like "Alexa, what's the number for Domino's?" and Alexa will connect you to your local Domino's. Now this is a bit different than what Google Assistant is doing, where it is actually calling businesses and talking to them for you, while Alexa is just connecting you to the business you are searching for. Though this specific feature, Google Assistant has had for quite some time already.
With today's update, Amazon is also adding a number of location-based features, to existing features. There is now location-based routines, so that you can set a routine to happen when you enter or leave a specific area. The easiest routine to use with this would be one for when you get home. You could set Alexa to turn on the lights, open the garage and unlock the door, when you get home. You could also set it up to turn off the lights and lock the door when you leave home, so you don't need to worry about it. This is being done with the Alexa app on your smartphone, and not through an Echo, since those are usually not portable. The other location-based feature is for reminders. Amazon says that in the coming days, you will be able to set reminders for Alexa that will trigger based on your location. For example you could say "Alexa, remind me to buy milk on the way home" so that when you leave the office, Alexa will remind you to buy milk, through a push notification on your smartphone. So this also needs to have the Alexa app installed to work.
There are a ton of other updates to Alexa Routines as well. Amazon is bringing FreeTime on Alexa to Routines, so that parents can set up a kid-friendly routine using their Echo Dot Kid's Edition or another Echo that has FreeTime enabled. For example, you could set up a "Good Night" routine that would turn out the lights and even read a book to them. Amazon is also adding the ability to add a sleep timer for music within Alexa Routines. Allowing you to set a sleep timer for an hour within a routine without needing to do a ton of other commands. Perhaps the biggest addition to Alexa Routines is the Wait Actions. This is going to allow you to add wait actions in your Alexa Routine. This would allow you to turn on the lights as part of a "Good Morning" routine, and then 20 minutes later it could read your flash briefing. After you've gotten up and out of bed, used the bathroom and are making breakfast. Announcements now works with Alexa Routines as well, so you can send a pre-recorded message to all of your Alexa devices. Finally, you can also add Do Not Disturb within Alexa Routine, so you could add this to a "Good Night" routine so that all your devices go into Do Not Disturb and allow you to get a good night sleep.
Another feature that is coming to Alexa this week is Email With Alexa. Essentially this allows Alexa to read an overview of what's in your Inbox while you are driving or drinking your coffee in the morning. You can say "Alexa, check my email" and she will give you a summary of the new messages in your inbox, from the past 24 hours. You can also ask Alexa if you got any email from a specific person. Amazon says that this feature will work with Gmail, Outlook, Hotmail and Live.com accounts (basically Google and all of Microsoft's different email accounts). This is going to be available in the US only, for now. It will likely launch in other countries in the future though.
Background: Amazon has done pretty well at updating Alexa, and bringing new features to its own personal assistant. While it doesn't push out updates as quickly as some of its competitors, when it does push them out, they are some pretty big updates. Like today's is. There's not really any new features here, they are just new additions to features that were already available. The location-based reminders and routines can really come in handy. Instead of needing to tell Alexa a command when you leave the house, you can have Alexa do it automatically now, which is pretty impressive. These will also come in handy during the holiday season, especially the location-based reminders. Which will allow you to never forget to buy something, or to do something when you leave a location.
Impact: Amazon and Google have both done a pretty good job at keeping their personal assistants close to feature parity. Though some will argue that there are some things that Amazon Alexa does better than Google Assistant, and vice versa. The features of both are relatively the same on both platforms, especially after today's announcement from Amazon. Improving these digital assistants is pretty important, especially as they become more and more useful these days. In the past few weeks, we've seen both companies working to release new features that can make the holiday season a bit easier for parents and kids. With Amazon bringing FreeTime to Alexa Routines, and Google bringing Read Along to the Google Home and Home Hub speakers and displays. These are all good to use in the kitchen as well, since there are plenty of recipe apps available on both platforms.
If you haven't already picked up an Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant enabled smart speaker or smart display, then you probably should. These will make great stocking stuffers and gifts this holiday season, and right now they are all on sale, at various discounts. So there's really no better time to buy them. They will be great for parents, siblings and even kids.