There were two big Alexa stories this week: An update to the Alexa features on the Fire TVs and news about Google’s new Echo competitor.
New Alexa features coming to the Fire TV
On Tuesday, Amazon announced new Alexa features for the Fire TV boxes and sticks. integrated voice search across 59 content partners including Hulu, Showtime, Starz, HBO Go and more. According to Amazon, these new features will be automatically rolled out in over-the-air software updates in the coming weeks.
The new abilities include:
- Launch apps using Alexa–Say “Open HBO Now” or “Launch Hulu” into the Fire TV Voice Remote to instantly open the app
- Play Amazon Video and Add-On Subscription content from Starz, Showtime, and more using Alexa–Say “Play Interstellar,” or “Watch Veep” and get even easier access to your favorite TV shows and movies
- Find local movie show times via Alexa–Ask “What movies are playing nearby?” or “Where is The Jungle Book playing?” to find out what movies are playing in theatres near you or specific movie times
- YouTube 4K Ultra HD–Access YouTube’s full 4K library via the YouTube.com app on Amazon Fire TV when connected to a UHD-compatible TV
- Search for local businesses and restaurants using Alexa–Ask “What Mexican restaurants are nearby?” to find restaurants around you or ask “What time does the nearest bank close?” to get convenient information on businesses nearby
- Access Kindle e-books via Alexa–Say “Read The Nightingale” to listen to text-to-speech enabled books from your Kindle library through Amazon Fire TV
Some of the features (the local businesses info and the ability to read Kindle ebooks via the Fire TV) were already available in last month’s update. Note that these features and the upcoming ones are only available on the latest generation Fire TV boxes and sticks running at least OS 5.
Alexa works a bit differently on the Fire TV than she does on the Amazon Echo or the Amazon Tap. You can find more help on using Alexa on your Fire TV here.
Google takes on the Amazon Echo
Last week we heard the news that Google was going to release a competitor to the Echo code-named “Chirp”. This week, we heard that the device is going to be called Google Home. There’s been a lot of talk about the name (yeah, lame) and how it looks (yeah, it does kind of look like an air freshener) and how it is designed to compete with the Amazon Echo. The Home will do many of the same things as the Echo, such as answering questions, providing the weather forecast, etc. Unlike the Echo, the Home uses the Cast standard and can broadcast to other speakers and your Chromecast. And, you can customize the colors. There are two areas where it doesn’t have some of the features Alexa has: Home will not have multi-account support, at least at the beginning. The Amazon Echo and Amazon Tap both have support for Household Accounts. Also unlike the Amazon Echo’s Skills , Google has not make Home’s API public yet, meaning that there won’t be any third-party applications, at least not for a while.
There’s no date announced for the Home yet. If you are interested, you can sign up at Home.Google.com and you’ll be notified when the device becomes available.
Alexa already has some abilities that you can customize. One of these is the custom news update called a Flash Briefing. Using the Alexa App, you can customize the sources from which Alexa draws the news. This section is continuing to expand and you can choose from detailed news sources, headlines only and sports news. That way, you get just the amount of news you are looking for.
The Flash Briefing is a standard feature on the Amazon Echo and Amazon Tap. But what if you want something else. That where Skills come in. Skills are developed for Alexa by third parties which you can install add specific abilities to your Alexa. You can install a Skill via your Alexa app. When you want to use it, you simply tell Alexa to ope it, then tell her what to do.
Since my husband is a musician, we installed a Skill called Metronome. We say “Open, Metronome” and Alexa asks how many beats per minute we want her to play. While most people wouldn’t need a metronome skill on their Echo, for us, it definitely has a place. 🙂 Each Skill also has its own specific help section.
There are already a large number of Skills available. They run the gamut from Buddha Quotes to children’s apps. New skills are constantly being developed for the system. You can also write reviews for the the Skills you use.
Need more info or help with Skills. You can find help here.
Just for Fun:
Jeff Bezos has admitted to being heavily influenced by Star Trek. If you are a fan of the franchise as well, say one of the following to Alexa: “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.” or “Coffee, Black.”
Need more help with Alexa on your Echo? Here’s the help page.