TikTok Debuts (Possibly Short-Lived) Alexa Skill
TikTok, the popular and controversial video-sharing social networking app has published an Alexa skill even as it faces a very uncertain future in the United States. The Alexa skill was created with the Alexa for Apps feature Amazon released this summer and adds voice commands enabling hands-free recording for creators and voice search for viewers on the app.
Alexa’s TikTok skill lets the voice assistant open and carry out tasks on the app that normally requires tapping on the screen, including checking messages and notifications. Users can ask Alexa to find videos or sounds by subject, or ask about the daily challenge and videos made to respond to it. The company suggests using Alexa to find a video of someone sharing a cookie recipe without having to wash their hands first. For those making their own videos, Alexa can open the camera function and start recording with voice commands, so dance videos don’t have to start with someone backing away from their phone first.
The new skill only works on mobile platforms with TikTok because it runs through Alexa for Apps, meaning Echo Show smart displays can’t stream videos from the app. This is the limitation of Alexa for Apps. As Alexa is not the default voice assistant for most smartphones, it can be slightly cumbersome to use the voice assistant to open an app instead of tapping on the icon. TikTok makes a point of suggesting using Amazon’s Echo Buds earbuds to run TikTok through Alexa, since that skips the extra step.
“This is yet another way we’re making our app accessible to more users, empowering their creativity, and imagining new ways for users to engage with our platform,” TikTok explained in its announcement. “We’re always exploring new product features, effects, and tools that make it easy to create and explore videos on our platform. Our Alexa skill for TikTok is another exciting way we’re improving the app experience for our users, and we’re excited to see how it inspires new kinds of creativity on our platform.”
TikTok’s 49 million daily users in the U.S. might not have long to enjoy the voice controls, however. President Donald Trump set a November deadline for TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance to divest from the U.S., citing national security concerns. Somewhat ironically, Amazon briefly banned employees with an Amazon email from installing TikTok on their phones. Microsoft has been working with the U.S. government to acquire the relevant portion of TikTok, although new reporting has suggested that Oracle, whose software business has always been enterprise-focused, is now attempting to buy TikTok’s U.S., Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand assets as well. What either company’s acquisition of TikTok’s U.S. presence would mean for integrations with a rival like Amazon would depend on the details of the acquisition and what arrangement TikTok has made with Amazon. At that point, the Alexa skill may vanish with the speed of any briefly viral TikTok challenge.