Alexa developers can now personalize their skills by recognizing the user’s voice

Amazon Alexa is already capable of identifying different voices to give personalized responses to different users in the household, thanks to the added support for voice profiles two years ago. Now, those same personalization capabilities will be offered to Alexa Skill developers, Amazon has announced.

Alongside Amazon’s big rollout of new consumer devices on Wednesday, the company also introduced a new “skill personalization” feature for the Alexa Skills Kit, that lets developers tap into the voice profiles that customers create through the Alexa companion app or from their device.

This expanded capability lets developers make skills that are able to remember a user’s custom settings, address their preferences when using the skill, and just generally recognize the different household members who are speaking at the time, among other things.

To work, Alexa will send a directed identifier — a generated string of characters and numbers — to the skill in question, if the customer has a voice profile set up. Every time the customer returns to that skill, the same identifier is share. This identifier doesn’t include any personally identifiable information, Amazon says, and is different for each voice profile for each skill the customer users.

Skill developers can then leverage this information to generate personalized greetings or responses based on the customers’ likes, dislikes, and interests.

If the customer doesn’t want to use skill personalization even though they configured a voice profile, they can opt out of the feature in the Alexa app.

Personalization could be a particular advantage to Alexa skills like games, where users may want to save their progress, or to music or podcasts/audio programming skills, where taste preferences come into play.

However, Alexa’s process for establishing voice profiles still requires manual input on users’ parts — people have to configure the option in the Alexa companion app’s settings, or say to Alexa, “learn my voice.” Many consumers may not know it’s even an option — which means developers interested in the feature may have to educate users by way of informational tips in their own apps, at first.

The feature is launching into preview, which means Amazon is just now opening up the ability to select developers. Those interested in putting the option to use will have to apply for access and wait to hear back.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Everything Amazon announced at its Alexa event today

As is now typical just ahead of the holidays, Amazon just inundated us with a whole new lineup of hardware devices, including new Echo smart speakers and screens, at its Alexa event today, plus other smart home and connected devices from its brands Ring and eero. There were also a slew of surprises, like Alexa earbuds, glasses, and a smart ring. And oh yeah, a new Alexa-powered oven, too.

New Echos

Headlining the event are Amazon’s latest updates to its Echo line of devices.

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Echo Dot with Clock

Not one for overly creative names, Amazon has given its entry-level Echo, the Echo Dot, a nifty upgrade. The new Echo Dot with Clock now features a digital alarm clock on the front, which can be dimmed if you prefer, at times. This LED display also allows the Dot to show the weather, when asked, or a countdown timer.

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The new Dot doesn’t replace the original, however. It’s just a $ 10 upgrade to $ 59 if you want the extra feature.

Echo Studio

The Echo the audiophiles have been waiting for. The new Echo Studio is Amazon’s response to Google’s Nest Max and Apple’s HomePod. The $ 199.99 device supports 3D audio and Dolby Atmos. It has five drivers, including one downward-facing 5.25-inch woofer, a 1-inch, front-firing tweeter and three, 2-inch, mid-range speakers aimed at different directions.

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And it has a 24-bit DAC and a power amplifier with 100 kHz of bandwidth for high-res, lossless music playback — you know, like what’s available through the Amazon Music HD service.

Echo Buds

Surprise, Alexa comes to your ear through Amazon’s own $ 129 wireless earbuds. The Echo Buds include Bose’s Active Noise Reduction Technology and provide hands-free access to Alexa, so you can do things like play music, get directions, order an Uber and more. Later, you’ll also be able to check Whole Foods inventory as you shop, too. (For those who still shop…in an actual store).

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The Echo Buds offer 5 hours of music or 4 hours of call time and come with a case that holds up to 3 charges. And with a tap, the Echo Buds can access your phone’s other assistant, like Siri or Google Assistant.

Echo Show 8

The $ 129 Echo Show 8 is a smaller, 8-inch version of the 10-inch flagship model of the Echo device with a screen. It’s a little bigger than the Echo 5, which is more of an alarm clock alternative, so makes sense for watching videos and placing voice calls…or dropping in on the kids. The device features an HD display and built-in camera shutter.

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Echo

The company refreshed its existing Echo speaker with better sound and new colorful fabric covers (Twilight Blue, Charcoal, Heather Grey, and Sandstone), but remains at the same price as before $ 99. In other words, there’s no need to run out and buy this Echo to replace your old one, but if you were in the market already, the Echo you’ll get is slightly better.

Echo Glow

This fun Alexa accessory is basically a nightlight for the kids that can change color and flash to the music. But at $ 30, it’s a lot of cash for a little bit of fun. Let’s wait for the inevitable Kids Edition Dot + Glow bundle, shall we?

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Echo Flex

You can now bring Echo to the bathroom with the new $ 25 Echo Flex device. (No really, this is how Amazon had it set up in its demo area.) The Flex plugs into any available outlet and functions as a small smart speaker. There’s no camera (whew) but it can respond to voice commands, like to give you the news and weather while you get ready for work, for example. It can also be upgraded with $ 14 accessories, including a Smart Night Light or Motion Sensor. The Flex is $ 25.

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Echo Frames & Loop

Amazon introduced its beta, invite-only hardware devices. One is a pair of $ 179.99 Alexa-enabled glasses that stick 4 micro speakers in the frame for hands-free Alexa.

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The other is a $ 129.99 Alexa-enabled smart ring with 2 microphones that puts Alexa on your finger for quick questions or brief calls.

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Other Hardware

New Eero mesh Wi-Fi router

Amazon launched the next generation of its Eero router, which now works better with Alexa. The router lets you do things like shut off or pause the Wi-Fi with voice commands — features that will later come to other routers from TP-Link, Asus, Linsky, and Arris by way of an API.  The router is $ 99, or available in a three-pack for $ 249, and is available in the U.S. today and in Europe later this year.

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Amazon Smart Oven

What’s an Amazon event without a new Alexa-powered oven, right? This time around, Amazon takes on the June Oven with a $ 250 combination convection oven, microwave, air fryer, and food warmer. Once paired with Echo, you can ask Alexa to do things like preheat the oven, start or stop the cooking, and more.

New Ring Cams

The Ring Stick Up Cam got a price drop to $ 99 as the Ring Stick Up Cam Elite, $ 199, launches. Unlike the Stick Up Cam, the new camera will be powered over Ethernet. The Ring Indoor Cam is a wired-only cheaper version of the camera at $ 60.

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More Stuff

Alexa gets Smarter and Weirder

Amazon also took the time to mention a few upgrades to Alexa’s capabilities today.

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  • This includes a multilingual mode where Alexa will be able to now speak both English and Spanish in the U.S.; French and English in Canada; and Hindi and English in India.
  • A new Neural Text to Speech model which will use machine learning to help Alexa be more “expressive.”
  • Celebrity voices! Because who doesn’t want Alexa to sound like Samuel L. Jackson? No really. The Jackson voice will be a 99-cent add-on to Echo devices and more celeb additions are in the works.
  • Alexa is coming to GM, including 2018 and newer Cadillac, Chevy, Buic and GMC vehicles
  • Scan-to-Cook is an upgrade for Echo Show which lets you scan a barcode to have the new Amazon Smart Oven prepare the item correct. The feature works with hundreds of Whole Foods brands, like 365 Everyday Value, plus Gardein, Marie Callender’s and more.
  • Certified for Humans is a new program that will highlight easy-to-use smart home products to consumers searching Amazon. Easy is just one requirement, though. The other is “works with Alexa.”
  • Alexa Guard gets updated to listen for more than just breaking glass, smoke or carbon monoxide alarms. Now it will listen for human activity too — like if footsteps, talking, coughing, or a door closing, is detected while Guard is in Away mode.
  • Alexa replenishment service, launching later this year, will alert you when supplies from smart home devices are low — like batteries that need changing in a smart lock, or an air filter that’s ready for a swap.
  • New utterances: You’ll be able to ask Alexa, “tell me what you heard” and “why did you do that?”

Alexa-powered Food Network Kitchen Service

Customers love Alexa in the kitchen for watching recipe videos. So Amazon doubled down on this with its partner, Food Network, to offer both live and on-demand cooking classes for Echo Show users. The service launches in October, and while Alexa is the exclusive voice partner, it will also be offered on phones and tablets. Oh, and Bobby Flay is involved.

 

Amazon Sidewalk

One of the more interesting introductions today was Amazon Sidewalk, Amazon’s low-bandwidth, long-distance wireless protocol designed to connect all of the IoT devices around your home and beyond — including places where Bluetooth or Wi-Fi can’t reach. The network uses the free, over-the-air 900 megahertz spectrum, and could allow for things like an Alexa-connected mailbox or lights for the yard, for example.

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Ring Fetch

The first product to take advantage of Amazon Sidewalk was a connected dog tag that will alert you when your pooch exits a geofence you’ve established — like the yard. The Ring Fetch launches next year.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Is Amazon’s Alexa ready to leave home and become a wearable voice assistant?

Amazon’s device event today played host to a dizzying number of product announcements, of all stripes – but notably, there are three brand new ways to wear Alexa on your body. Amazon clearly wants to give you plenty of options to take Alexa with you when you leave the house, the only place it’s really held sway so far – but can Amazon actually convince people that it’s the voice interface for everywhere, and not just for home?

Among the products Amazon announced at its Seattle event, Echo Frames, Echo Loop and Echo Buds all provide ways to take Alexa with you wherever you go. What’s super interesting – and telling – about this is that Amazon went with three different vectors to try to convince people to wear Alexa, instead of focusing its efforts on just one. That indicates a stronger than ever desire to break Alexa out of its home environment.

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The company has tried to get this done in different ways before. Alexa has appeared in Bluetooth speakers and headphones, in some cars (including now GM, as of today) and via Amazon’s own car accessory – and though the timing didn’t line up, it would’ve been a lock for Amazon’s failed Fire Phone.

Notice that none of these existing examples have helped Amazon gain any apparent significant market share when it comes to Alexa use on the go. While we don’t have great stats on how well-adopted Alexa is in car, for instance, it stands to reason that we’d be hearing a lot more about its success if it was indeed massively successful – in the same way we hear often about Alexa’s prevalence in the home.

Amazon lacks a key vector that other voice assistants got for free: Being the default option on a smartphone. Google Assistant manages this through both Google’s own, and third-party Android phones. Apple’s Siri isn’t often celebrated for its skill and performance, but there’s no question that it benefits from just being the only really viable option on iOS when it comes to voice assistant software.

Amazon had to effectively invent a product category to get Alexa any traction at all – the Echo basically created the smart speaker category, at least in terms of significant mass market uptake. Its success with its existing Echo devices proves that this category served a market need, and Amazon has reaped significant reward as a result.

But for Amazon, a virtual assistant that only operates in the confines of the home covers only a tiny part of the picture when it comes to building more intelligent and nuanced customer profiles, which is the whole point of the endeavour to begin with.  While Americans seem to be spending more time at home than ever before, a big percentage of peoples’ days is still spent outside, and this is largely invisible to Alexa.

The thing is, the only reliable and proven way to ensure you’re with someone throughout their entire day is to be on their smartphone. Alexa is, via Amazon’s own app, but that’s a far cry from being a native feature of the device, and just a single tap or voice command away. Amazon’s own smartphone ambitions deflated pretty quickly, so now it’s casting around for alternatives – and Loop, Frames and Buds all represent its most aggressive attempts yet.

alexa echo amazon 9250074

A smart spread of bets, each with their own smaller pool of penetration among users vs. a general staple like a smartphone, might be Amazon’s best way to actually drive adoption – especially if they’re not concerned with the overall economics of the individual hardware businesses attached to each.

The big question will be whether A) these products can either offer enough value on their own to justify their continued use while Alexa catches up to out-of-home use cases from a software perspective, or B) Amazon’s Alexa team can interate the assistant’s feature set quick enough to make it as useful on the go as it is at home, which hasn’t seemed like something it’s been able to do to date (not having direct access to smartphone functions like texting and calling is probably a big part of that).

Specifically for these new products, I’d put the Buds at the top of the list as the most likely to make Alexa a boon companion for a much greater number of people. The buds themselves offer a very compelling price point for their feature set, and Alexa coming along for the ride is likely just bonus for a large percent of their addressable market. Both the Frames and the Loop seem a lot more experimental, but Amazon’s limited release go-to-market strategy suggest its planned for that as well.

In the end, these products are interesting and highly indicative of Amazon’s direction and ambition with Alexa overall, but I don’t think this is the watershed moment for the digital assistant beyond the home. Still, it’s probably among the most interesting spaces in tech to watch, because of how much is at stake for both winners and losers.


Android – TechCrunch

Is Amazon’s Alexa ready to leave home and become a wearable voice assistant?

Amazon’s device event today played host to a dizzying number of product announcements, of all stripes – but notably, there are three brand new ways to wear Alexa on your body. Amazon clearly wants to give you plenty of options to take Alexa with you when you leave the house, the only place it’s really held sway so far – but can Amazon actually convince people that it’s the voice interface for everywhere, and not just for home?

Among the products Amazon announced at its Seattle event, Echo Frames, Echo Loop and Echo Buds all provide ways to take Alexa with you wherever you go. What’s super interesting – and telling – about this is that Amazon went with three different vectors to try to convince people to wear Alexa, instead of focusing its efforts on just one. That indicates a stronger than ever desire to break Alexa out of its home environment.

alexa echo amazon 9250082

The company has tried to get this done in different ways before. Alexa has appeared in Bluetooth speakers and headphones, in some cars (including now GM, as of today) and via Amazon’s own car accessory – and though the timing didn’t line up, it would’ve been a lock for Amazon’s failed Fire Phone.

Notice that none of these existing examples have helped Amazon gain any apparent significant market share when it comes to Alexa use on the go. While we don’t have great stats on how well-adopted Alexa is in car, for instance, it stands to reason that we’d be hearing a lot more about its success if it was indeed massively successful – in the same way we hear often about Alexa’s prevalence in the home.

Amazon lacks a key vector that other voice assistants got for free: Being the default option on a smartphone. Google Assistant manages this through both Google’s own, and third-party Android phones. Apple’s Siri isn’t often celebrated for its skill and performance, but there’s no question that it benefits from just being the only really viable option on iOS when it comes to voice assistant software.

Amazon had to effectively invent a product category to get Alexa any traction at all – the Echo basically created the smart speaker category, at least in terms of significant mass market uptake. Its success with its existing Echo devices proves that this category served a market need, and Amazon has reaped significant reward as a result.

But for Amazon, a virtual assistant that only operates in the confines of the home covers only a tiny part of the picture when it comes to building more intelligent and nuanced customer profiles, which is the whole point of the endeavour to begin with.  While Americans seem to be spending more time at home than ever before, a big percentage of peoples’ days is still spent outside, and this is largely invisible to Alexa.

The thing is, the only reliable and proven way to ensure you’re with someone throughout their entire day is to be on their smartphone. Alexa is, via Amazon’s own app, but that’s a far cry from being a native feature of the device, and just a single tap or voice command away. Amazon’s own smartphone ambitions deflated pretty quickly, so now it’s casting around for alternatives – and Loop, Frames and Buds all represent its most aggressive attempts yet.

alexa echo amazon 9250074

A smart spread of bets, each with their own smaller pool of penetration among users vs. a general staple like a smartphone, might be Amazon’s best way to actually drive adoption – especially if they’re not concerned with the overall economics of the individual hardware businesses attached to each.

The big question will be whether A) these products can either offer enough value on their own to justify their continued use while Alexa catches up to out-of-home use cases from a software perspective, or B) Amazon’s Alexa team can interate the assistant’s feature set quick enough to make it as useful on the go as it is at home, which hasn’t seemed like something it’s been able to do to date (not having direct access to smartphone functions like texting and calling is probably a big part of that).

Specifically for these new products, I’d put the Buds at the top of the list as the most likely to make Alexa a boon companion for a much greater number of people. The buds themselves offer a very compelling price point for their feature set, and Alexa coming along for the ride is likely just bonus for a large percent of their addressable market. Both the Frames and the Loop seem a lot more experimental, but Amazon’s limited release go-to-market strategy suggest its planned for that as well.

In the end, these products are interesting and highly indicative of Amazon’s direction and ambition with Alexa overall, but I don’t think this is the watershed moment for the digital assistant beyond the home. Still, it’s probably among the most interesting spaces in tech to watch, because of how much is at stake for both winners and losers.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Amazon launches multilingual mode for using Alexa in multiple languages at once

Amazon is launching multilingual mode for its Alexa-supporting devices, the company announced today at its Devices event in Seattle. The new multilingual mode will initially be available in the U.S., where it’ll work with English and Spanish; Canada, where it’ll offer French and English support, and Hindi and English in India.

These bilingual modes will mean that households can use their Alexa devices in both languages simultaneously, which is obviously a great feature for families where more than one language is spoken at home. Alexa will switch between languages, and employ new natural-sounded voices modeled using neural network processing to provide more realistic and expressive responses.

This multi-lingual mode is just a start, Amazon says, since Amazon SVP of Devices Dave Limp noted at the event that there are “billions of households around the world that have dual speakers, and sometimes three languages, in a single household,” all of which would benefit from expanded multilingual options.

Gadgets – TechCrunch