Alexa Can Now Initiate Calls to Local Businesses and More
Earlier this week Amazon announced a number of new features for Alexa. One notable addition is the ability to initiate calls with local businesses. More of a phone replacement than anything else, the feature is not comparable to Google Duplex which can make restaurant reservations on a user’s behalf. Alexa also introduced other updates, including the ability to tie a specific location to routines and reminders, several new commands and features for routines, and email reading.
Calling Local Businesses
Although both Gooogle Assistant and Alexa voice assistants are advertising the ability to call local businesses, they are actually implementing the feature in different ways. Alexa is connecting the call and users still have to do the talking. Google Assistant using Google Duplex, on the other hand, is talking to the business for users for a limited number of use cases.
With the new Alexa feature, users can search and call local businesses or restaurants by voice from their device. Users can make requests like, “Alexa, what’s the number for Domino’s?” and following up with “Call them” to connect as a phone call. If a local business has their information publically available through a Bing search or in the Yext database, Alexa can find the number and connect a call. All Alexa apps have a phone number assigned to them which facilitates outbound calling.
When asking for a number to a popular chain, such as Domino’s, Alexa will give you the number of the one nearest to your location. It is unclear how large an area is covered by the term ‘local.’ I was able to ask for businesses that were over an hour’s drive away from me, and Alexa had no problem quickly finding the number. The decision to implement this feature makes sense, as we all know by now Google Assistant has seriously been raising the bar with Google Duplex. Alexa wants to do everything it can to keep up, and finding the number of your local businesses is a great step to take.
Alexa Routines Updates
Routines are a set of several commands users can kick off through a trigger phrase. For example, saying “good morning” can initiate Alexa to raise the blinds, turn on the coffee maker and start playing news, weather, and traffic reports. Recent updates to Alexa Routines include:
- Parents will soon be able to set up and customize kid-friendly routines using a device that is FreeTime enabled. For example, a “good night” routine can have Alexa share a good night message, turn off the lights and then play sleep sounds or music for an hour
- Users can now include “wait actions” in their routines. Wait actions are pauses in-between taking action on various commands. For example, a “good morning” routine could turn on the lights, but wait 20 minutes before turning on the news.
- Do not disturb option/turning off the audio for Routines is now available.
- Push notification support is now available for things like setting a timer, Alexa can notify you when the time is up and send a push notification to your phone.
- Announcements can be incorporated into a routine. For example, a dinnertime routine can include a command to announce to everyone it is time to eat across all the household Echo devices.
Location Specific Routines and Reminders
Reminders and routines can now be tied to a specific location. In the U.S., the feature is rolling out now. Once enabled, users can say “Alexa, remind me to turn on the dishwasher when I get home” or “Alexa, remind me to take the chicken out when I get home.” Alexa will then speak the reminder and send a push notification to your phone when you have arrived home.
Initially announced in September, Alexa email reading is rolling out today. The feature works with Gmail, Outlook.com, and Hotmail.com inboxes currently, with more to come later. Alexa can already access Outlook email through an earlier integration with Cortana. Users must first link their inbox to Alexa through the Alexa app. Users are then able to ask Alexa to check and reply to emails by saying “check my mail.” Users can read, reply to, delete, or archive messages by voice says Amazon. Alexa will generally read out emails from the past 24 hours, but can also check for emails from a specific person. For example, users can say “Alexa, do I have any emails from Sarah?” and can even set up a notification to let them know when Sarah sends that email.