Technology Amazon will let devs compete for your Echo Show’s screen and everything else Alexa just added
Amazon Sidewalk's confusing privacy permissions, explained
On by default and launching June 8, Sidewalk allows other people's devices near your home to stay connected by borrowing a sliver of your bandwidth.The Echo Dot with Clock, one of many Amazon and Ring gadgets that will double as Sidewalk bridges starting on June 8.
Amazon’s Alexa devices are ambient computers, not the kind you use all day. When you do ask your Echo a question or glance at your Echo Show’s diminutive screen, the voice assistant only has a brief chance to impress. Today, Amazon is announcing it’s going to give more of those opportunities to third-party developers — including brand-new widgets and featured skill cards that might take up a chunk of your smart speaker’s precious real estate.
Here’s what to expect from those and everything else the company’s announcing at its Alexa Live event today.
As you can see in Amazon’s mockup above, widgets look pretty much as you might expect. In a blog post, Amazon describes them as “rich, customizable, glanceable, self-updating views of skill content” where you can check items off a to-do list or activate a skill’s functions, without needing to say “Alexa” first. It’s not yet clear how limited they are or if they might effectively be a way to build a touchscreen app for an Echo Show.
Amazon Echo Show 8 (second gen) review: Great upgrades for video callers, good updates for everyone else
Frequent users of Alexa's video call and Drop In features stand to benefit the most from Amazon's new smart display, but those aren't the only improvements worth looking at.Amazon's latest Echo Show 8 looks almost identical to its predecessor, except now it boasts a light-adjusting screen to improve image quality.
Featured skill cards might be slightly controversial, depending on how useful they are. It promotes new Alexa skills on your home screen, even if you haven’t asked for them. It’s not exactly an advertising service, Amazon Alexa Skills VP Aaron Rubenson tells The Verge, not something developers will have to pay for. “It’s open to everybody to raise their hand and say they want to be part of it,” he says, adding that you’ll see personalized results based on other signals you send Alexa. One of the first featured skill cards will be Comedy Central, and Rubenson says he might well see it because he already listens to some comedy in his Alexa Flash Briefing each morning.
But even if you don’t have an Echo device with a screen, you may get more Alexa skills suggested to you soon. Amazon says it’s expanding its name-free interaction toolkit to let skills volunteer to be promoted when you speak phrases like “Alexa, how did the Nasdaq do today?”
Amazon Echo Show 8: How one big feature changes everything
This new version of Amazon's Echo Show 8 is an example of an incremental upgrade done right. Sure, Amazon could have added a few more colors or taken off the fabric texture that I personally find annoying, but that's the style today. What Amazon did is stick with what works and its customers are familiar with, and upgraded the one feature that was in desperate need of an upgrade.If you already own an Echo Show 8, the only -- and I mean, the only -- reason to upgrade is to get the new camera. If you're buying a new Echo Show 8, just get the second generation model.
“We’re letting developers raise their hand and say, ‘My skill can handle that request,’” says Rubenson. And you agree to use Amazon’s suggested skills, Alexa can pass along your request instead of making you repeat yourself.
While Amazon was the only one that previously profited from physical merchandise sold through Alexa, the company will now let Alexa skill developers sell products inside their skills as well with Alexa shopping actions and get up to a 10 percent affiliate marketing commission from Amazon, too. As expected, you can only sell products listed on Amazon.com, though they don’t need to be your products. (Rubenson couldn’t say whether Amazon would allow skills that are effectively just stores.) Amazon’s also introducing paid skills, so don’t be surprised if you have to pay before using your next Alexa app instead of using an in-app purchase afterward.
This week's best deals: Get two Echo Dots for $50 ahead of Amazon Prime Day
With Amazon Prime Day only a few days away, there are a bunch of early deals that Prime members can take advantage of. Two Echo Dots will cost you only $50 right now, while the Echo Show 5 is down to a record low of $45. Non-Prime members can grab the Nest Audio smart speaker for $75, the Beats Flex earbuds for only $39 or save $200 on the MacBook Pro M1. Here are the best tech deals from this week that you can still buy today. Echo Dot PrimePrime members can get two 4th-gen Echo Dots for $50 when using the code PDDOT2PK at checkout. There's a similar deal on the full-sized Echo, too — pick up two for $120 with the code ECHOPRIME, allowing you to get each for $60.
While Amazonseem to have attracted rivals Apple, Google, and Samsung to its voice interoperability initiative yet, it does have some news on that front as well. Rubenson says Samsung will have a fridge with both Bixby and Alexa “operating side by side,” and the company’s (which lets brands create their own Alexa-powered assistant) will appear in a Verizon smart display where Alexa can handle standard Alexa tasks while the new Verizon assistant can handle requests like checking your wireless bill. Rubenson says they can hand off requests to each other, too.
In addition to those highlights, here’s a quick bulleted list of other Alexa updates that caught my eye:
- Food Skill APIs for “high-quality, food delivery and pickup experiences.” Domino’s Pizza will use it at some point.
- Send to Phone where “customers can start an experience on their Alexa-enabled device, and continue it on their mobile phone.” McDonald’s UK, Twitter, Husqvarna, Iberia Airlines, Cookpad, and Lysol will connect their mobile apps with Alexa skills.
- Event-Based Triggers and Proactive Suggestions: “For example, if a customer is heading out for work, customers could opt in to have a skill proactively suggest that they lock their home.” Whole Foods will launch a “curbside pickup experience” later this year.
- Find My is opening up the “Alexa, Find my” command to more companies with Tile-like device trackers, with Samsung and Remote+ arriving later this year.
- Alexa Device Discovery will be able to discover new categories of devices like printers and smart TVs.
- Alexa Entities now lets any skill developer access Alexa’s knowledge graph for general answers.
That’s not the whole list, mind you: there’s even more in Amazon’s full blog post, which we’ll add to this story once it’s live. In addition, Amazon is announcing today that, a new ambitious open standard for smart home devices.
The new features are all coming as part of the company’s Alexa Live developer conference today, where it’s seeking to attract the next generation of programmers to build skills for its voice assistant. Amazon says it now has 900,000 registered developers and 130,000 skills (a year ago and in September 2019), and Rubenson tells us developer revenue has doubled annually, with some skill developers making over $1 million a year.
Best Amazon Echo deals for Prime Day 2021 .
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