Alexa is a virtual assistant developed by Amazon, first used in the Amazon Echo and the Amazon Echo Dot smart speakers developed by Amazon Lab126. It is capable of voice interaction, music playback, making to-do lists, setting alarms, streaming podcasts, playing audio-books, and providing weather, traffic, and other real-time information, such as news. Alexa can also control several smart devices using itself as a home automation system. Users can extend the Alexa capabilities by installing “skills” (additional functionality developed by third-party vendors, in other settings more commonly called apps).
Most devices with Alexa allow users to activate the device using a wake-word (such as Echo); other devices (such as the Amazon mobile app on iOS or Android) require the user to push a button to activate Alexa’s listening mode. Currently, interaction and communication with Alexa are only available in English, German and Japanese. In November 2017, Alexa became available in the Canadian market in English only.
A companion app is available from the Apple App Store, Google Play, and Amazon App-store. The app can be used by owners of Alexa-enabled devices to install skills, control music, manage alarms, and view shopping lists. It also allows users to review the recognized text on the app screen and to send feedback to Amazon concerning whether the recognition was good or bad. A web interface is also available to set up compatible devices (e.g., Amazon Echo, Amazon Dot, Amazon Echo Show).
Alexa offers weather reports provided by Accu-Weather and news provided by Tune-In from a variety of sources including local radio stations, NPR, and ESPN. Additionally, Alexa-supported devices stream music from the owner’s Amazon Music accounts and have built-in support for Pandora and Spotify accounts.
Alexa can play music from streaming services such as Apple Music and Google Play Music from a phone or tablet. Alexa can manage voice-controlled alarms, timers, and shopping and to-do lists, and can access Wikipedia articles. Alexa devices will respond to questions about items in the user’s Google Calendar. As of November 2016, the Alexa App-store had over 5,000 functions (“skills”) available for users to download, up from 1,000 functions in June 2016. As of a partnership with fellow technology company, Microsoft, Alexa will be available via its competing virtual personal assistant, Cortana. This functionality was said to come later in 2017; although as of January 2018, is still not available. In March 2018, Amazon rolled out a new “Brief Mode,” wherein Alexa would begin responding with a beep sound rather than saying, “Okay,” to confirm receipt of a command.
In the home automation space, Alexa can interact with devices from several manufacturers including Belkin, ecobee, Geeni, IFTTT, Insteon, LIFX, LightwaveRF, Nest , Philips Hue, Smart-Things, Wink,and Yonomi.
Take-out food can be ordered using Alexa. As of May 2017 food ordering using Alexa is supported by Domino’s Pizza, Grubhub, Pizza Hut, Seamless, and Wingstop. Also, users of Alexa in the UK can order meals via Just Eat. In early 2017, Starbucks announced a private beta for placing pick-up orders using Alexa. In addition, users can order meals using Amazon Prime Now via Alexa in 20 major US cities. With the introduction of Amazon Key in November 2017, Alexa also works together with the smart lock and the Alexa Cloud Cam included in the service to allow Amazon couriers to unlock customers’ front doors and deliver packages inside.
Alexa is also used in various other platforms such as Music, Sports, Messaging and Calls, Business etc.
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