All posts in “Alexa”

Alexa can do a lot more in your car with Echo Auto skills

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Amazon's Echo Auto brings Alexa into the car.
Amazon’s Echo Auto brings Alexa into the car.

Image: bridget bennett / mashable

Amazon’s Echo Auto just skilled up. 

Developers can now make skills just for the Auto, which works with your phone or with some in-car infotainment systems. What’s it for? It’s basically an Alexa digital assistant device made specifically for the car. 

Amazon announced on Wednesday the new customizable skill-making for the car, which it argues is different from developing skills for a living room or kitchen space. Car skills will determine how each is designed and works, whether it’s a game or a news-reading app. 

Amazon doled out advice for those looking to create skills for the car, such as keeping responses quick, considering synchronization with Alexa outside the car or when first coming into the car from elsewhere, location awareness, and using voice only. 

Amazon released a developer guide, “Best Practices for Designing Alexa Skills for Automotive,” going deeper into skill design for drivers, passengers, and driving instead of the typical Alexa user in a house.  

Designing a skill for a car-only use-case is similar to a new trivia app made for commuters called Drivetime. It uses the same design principles to make it car-friendly, with long pauses, extended time for spoken answers, and a truly hands-free experience. Alexa developers are advised to limit any interactions with the Alexa app and Auto device — the Auto skills can’t be distracting because the user is behind the wheel.

The Echo Auto remains a fairly elusive car gadget — you can only get it through a waitlist-request system on Amazon. People are starting to wonder where it is. Today’s announcement about car-specific skills seems like a good sign that a wider rollout is coming soon.

It’s listed at 50 percent off and only $24.99 for now, but once it’s more widely available, it’s supposed to bump up to $50. The Echo Auto is also still lagging behind on its compatibility with other apps like Apple Maps and Waze, which the website still says will be “available later this year.” Apple Music is still “coming soon.”

As long as it works in the car, people are eager to get their hands on the newest Alexa device.

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TP-Link smart plugs and smart bulbs are up to $24 off at Walmart

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Controlling lights via your phone, Alexa, or Google Home is possible for under $25.
Controlling lights via your phone, Alexa, or Google Home is possible for under $25.

Image: tp-link/mashable photo composite

Controlling lights and other appliances without standing up isn’t futuristic anymore — it’s just the thing to do in 2019. 

Making the switch is easy with TP-Link smart plugs and smart bulbs, which are up to $24 off at Walmart today. Grab a Kasa HS 110 Smart Plug for $15.99 (regularly $39.99) and a Kasa A19 Smart Light Bulb for $29.97 (regularly $44.99)

Here’s the beauty: Whether your home is so decked out that you forget what it’s like to not use voice commands or you don’t have a single Echo device, smart plugs and smart bulbs can slip seamlessly into your routine. No hub is required, and both cycles can be scheduled via the Kasa app — but if you are into a smart home, both are Alexa and Google Home compatible.

Image: tp-link

The TP-Link KB130 Smart Light Bulb transforms any room it’s in by adapting to the surrounding rhythm and dynamically adjusting intensity and temperature to mimic natural light patterns. Using a 60 W equivalent bulb like this one can reduce your energy usage by up to 80% compared to a 60 W iridescent bulb.

The Kasa HS 110 Smart Plug will also play a part in slashing your electric bills by monitoring the energy of the device plugged into it and remembering when it doesn’t need to be on. Plus, you’ll never have to worry about accidentally leaving a curling iron or space heater on again.

Grab the A19 smart bulb for $29.97 and the HS 110 smart plug for $15.99 — a savings of up to 55%.

You can now ask Alexa to control your Roku devices

Roku this morning announced its devices will now be compatible with Amazon’s Alexa. Through a new Roku skill for Alexa, Roku owners will be able to control their devices in order to do things like launch a channel, play or pause a show, search for entertainment options and more. Roku TV owners will additionally be able to control various functions related to their television, like adjusting the volume, turning on and off the TV, switching inputs and changing channels if there is an over-the-air antenna attached.

The added support for Amazon Alexa will be available to devices running Roku OS 8.1 or higher, and will require that customers enable the new Roku skill, which will link their account to Amazon.

Roku has developed its own voice assistant designed specifically for its platform, which is available with a touch of a button on its voice remote as well as through optional accessories like its voice-powered wireless speakers, tabletop Roku Touch remote or TCL’s Roku-branded Smart Soundbar. However, it hasn’t ignored the needs of those who have invested in other voice platforms.

Already, Roku devices work with Google Assistant-powered devices, like Google Home and Google Home Mini, through a similar voice app launched last fall.

Support for the dominant streaming media platform — Amazon Alexa — was bound to be next. EMarketer said Amazon took two-thirds of smart speaker sales last year, and CIRP said Echo has a 70 percent U.S. market share.

The Roku app will work with any Alexa-enabled device, including the Amazon Echo, Echo Show, Echo Dot, Echo Spot and Echo Plus, as well as those powered by Alexa from third parties, the company confirmed to TechCrunch.

Once enabled, you’ll be able to say things like “Alexa, pause Roku,” or “Alexa, open Hulu on Roku,” or “Alexa, find comedies on Roku,” and more. The key will be starting the command with “Alexa,” as usual, then specify “Roku” is where the action should take place (e.g. “on Roku”).

One change with the launch of voice support via Alexa is that the commands are a bit more natural, in some cases. Whereas Google Assistant required users to say “Hey Google, pause on Roku,” the company today says the same command for Alexa users is “Alexa, pause Roku.” That’s a lot easier to remember and say. However, most of the other commands are fairly consistent between the two platforms.

“Consumers often have multiple voice ecosystems in their homes,” said Ilya Asnis, senior vice president of Roku OS at Roku, in a statement about the launch. “By allowing our customers to choose Alexa, in addition to Roku voice search and controls, and other popular voice assistants, we are strengthening the value Roku offers as a neutral platform in home entertainment.”

Amazon Alexa exec says data privacy is vital to the success of voice assistants

In this special edition of MashTalk, Mashable sits down with Pete Thompson, Vice President of Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service, at CES 2019.

Thompson discusses the expansion of Alexa services on brand new smart home and automotive products, competition with Google Home, and the importance of data security for customers.

That AmazonBasics Microwave that works with Alexa is on sale for 30% off

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There are smart microwaves now. Welcome to the future.
There are smart microwaves now. Welcome to the future.

Image: amazon

Did you catch (no pun intended) that Amazon commercial during the Super Bowl featuring Harrison Ford?

You have to give Amazon credit for being able to make fun of themselves and joking about the sheer amount of devices and gadgets that feature the Alexa voice assistant. However, just like every joke there’s some truth behind it. 

No, Amazon didn’t create an Alexa-enabled dog collar for dogs or an Alexa-enabled electric toothbrush that can play your favorite podcasts, but the online retailer did make a microwave built with the voice assistant. Did you notice it in the ad? It’s “hidden” at the very beginning of the TV spot. The AmazonBasics Microwave works with Alexa and it’s now on sale for $41.99, or $18 off its retail price.

It’s pretty tough to get a nice microwave for less than $50 — let alone one that responds to voice commands.

The smart microwave pairs with any Echo device like the Echo Dot or Echo Spot (which are also on sale for $29.99 and $99.99, respectively) and works just like a traditional microwave. It can defrost vegetables, re-heat pizza, and make popcorn, but can be controlled with just your voice. In fact, Amazon programmed a bunch of presets to make cooking with a microwave even easier.

You can say something like “Alexa, reheat pizza” or “Alexa, defrost veggies” and the microwave will turn on with the correct power and time setting. The smart microwave even has an “Ask Alexa” button if you don’t want to punch in a time setting on its keypad. You can push the button and say something like “two minutes” or “make popcorn” and the microwave will do the rest.

Speaking of popcorn, if you’re running low on the airy snack, you can simply re-order popcorn from Orville Redenbacher’s on Amazon by commanding the AmazonBasics Microwave to re-stock. Be careful though, it really shouldn’t be this easy to order snacks.

Amazon customer KT writes:

“I was looking for a microwave oven to replace the one we had and so had been looking at various models when this one started to be advertised for pre order. It looked like very good value for the money and had the added fun of being connected to the echo. I decided to give it a try and ordered one. It arrived on the day it was available. It was well packed and in perfect condition. It took me only a few minutes to set up. Operation is easy. I decided not to utilize the popcorn ordering feature as the popcorn was ridiculously expensive but I will keep checking to see if the prices of Amazon popcorn go down. I recommend this to anyone looking for a smallish microwave. Even without the Alexa feature it is an excellent value for the money.”