New Alexa Skill Reads All Email and Messages Out Loud, for a Price

Voice tech developer ping extended from a mobile app to an Alexa skill on Monday. The service acts as a hub to read out messages from a range of communication apps and emails and was designed specifically for drivers and those in situations where they can’t look at their smartphone.

Convenience at a Cost

Accessing and reading emails and messages out loud is already possible for Alexa, but only on a case-by-case basis. The voice assistant can read emails and there are Alexa skills for reading messages sent by text, Slack, and some other communication apps . What ping offers is to access and read every one of them, all from one skill, so that a user can ask Alexa to “open pingloud” and hear messages sent by email, text, Slack, Facebook, and, WhatsApp, Snapchat, along with Twitter and Instagram direct messages. It’s a small convenience compared to checking each skill individually, but reducing friction even a little is one of the attractions of voice apps. Using the Alexa skill requires having the ping app on an Android phone, although an iOS app is currently in beta testing. Though ping will read text messages for free, the full service costs $20 a year.

Safe Driving Goals

One notable feature absent from ping is that it can’t be used to compose messages to others. That’s a deliberate choice, the company says. Dictating aloud is as dangerous as holding a phone and texting, according to some studies, and The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) explicitly advises drivers not to do so in its guidelines.

“Distracted driving is responsible for more than 25% of car crashes and thousands of fatalities each year,” ping CEO Garin Toren said in a statement. “The ping Alexa skill is specifically designed to help drivers stay off their phones while giving them exactly what they want – access to their messages.”

Even without composing messages, using voice assistants while driving is risky. A study last year by the Transport Research Laboratory, a British transportation consulting and research firm found that using voice assistants slows reaction time in drivers in a way similar to drunk driving. The resulting distraction makes crashing statistically more likely.

Those who want to take a chance on sending messages can still use the individual Alexa skills to do so, of course. As an alternative, ping enables auto-replies to messages to let people know you will respond when you are done traveling. Beyond the safety issue, there’s a question of accuracy. While it can be amusing to read the inadvertently hilarious mistakes sent through text because of a voice assistant mishearing words, it’s probably less fun if it happens to you.


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