Alexa Mimics Android, Debuts New Auto Mode and Commute Routine to Encourage Leaving the App Open While Driving
Amazon added a new Auto Mode to the Alexa mobile app on Thursday in a bid to encourage people to use the voice assistant while driving. Auto Mode looks a lot like the interface of Android Auto and serves a similar purpose in streamlining access to Alexa’s features. As part of the new bid for drivers, Alexa also added a new Routine called Start My Commute as a way of further simplifying using Alexa while on the road.
Auto Mode is an option in the Alexa app that changes the interface into a set of buttons with large font and symbols taking up the screen. The idea is to make the display easier to read and change a lot of the most common tasks into one-tap shortcuts. The result, deliberately or not, is an Android Auto-esque way of accessing communication, entertainment, and other tools. Auto Mode provides a homepage with Communicate, Navigation, and Play as sub-pages, using a menu at the bottom to switch among them. The central page handles playing and pausing media, getting directions to home and work, and making a call. The sub-pages handle exactly what their titles suggest, but in the simplified model of the interface where only the most immediately relevant or frequently accessed information appears. The Alexa Auto Mode is coming to iOS and Android versions of the Alexa app over the next few weeks, although not universally. At the moment, Amazon is only planning to offer it in the U.S., Canada, Germany, France, India, Italy, Spain, UK, Australia, and New Zealand.
“Auto Mode in the Alexa App lets you see and do more with your supported Alexa auto accessory by turning your phone into a smart, driver-friendly display that enhances Alexa’s in-vehicle voice experience,” Amazon explained in a blog post. “Auto Mode was designed to help you stay focused on the road with easy to read visuals, large touch targets and intuitive features and shortcuts for the most common actions used in the vehicle like navigating to saved locations, placing calls to contacts and Alexa devices, and playing recent media.”
Though the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis has heavily affected commuting patterns, Amazon unveiled an Alexa Routine specifically for those who still drive to and from work every day. The Start My Commute routine activates custom weather, traffic, and entertainment delivery from Alexa. The voice assistant will offer music, audiobooks, or the news to listen to, or suggest a game that can be played while driving.
Featuring the routine also acts as a subtle nod to Amazon recently making routines sharable, so that someone who has a great set of tasks to give Alexa while driving might attach it to a link and send it to a friend to incorporate into their own Alexa account. The commuting routine mainly seems like a bonus option to Auto Mode, which fits into Amazon’s ambitions for Alexa in cars. The voice assistant added the ability to pay for gas at 11,500 Exxon and Mobil gas stations in the U.S. this summer, something people who want to limit contact with surfaces and people are likely to appreciate. To get Alexa into people’s cars, the company has been expanding sales of the Echo Auto device, which adds Alexa to cars where the voice assistant not integrated. The device has been adding new languages and is now sold internationally in France, Australia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. Alexa is also getting added as the default to more cars. General Motors was the first to take full advantage of the Alexa Auto SDK, followed by partnerships with Lamborghini and Rivian to integrate Alexa into some of their models. and Buick, one of GM’s brands is even running a commercial suggesting people look at its cars and think its called an Alexa.