Alexa Debuts iOS Widget and Household Reminder Messaging Feature
Amazon has added new ways to connect with Alexa and to communicate with others using the voice assistant. Users can now send reminders to others in their household by name or their relationship and can more quickly access Alexa on iPhones and iPads with the new Ask Alexa widget for iOS.
The reminder assignments feature is a straightforward extension of the usual reminders and alarms, adding in specific people who need reminding. Asking the voice assistant to remind someone whose name is on the account of a chore at a specific time will prompt Alexa to push a notification to their mobile device via the Alexa app at that time. Anyone with a voice profile on the same Alexa account can be included. Those profiles also include a space where relationship nicknames can be added so someone could ask Alexa to set a reminder for dad or grandma to do something without needing to specify their actual name. It’s similar to Samsung Bixby’s recently added option for contact lists. Users can tell the voice assistant their relationship with a contact and use it as an alternative to a given name when asking it to make a call.
The individual reminders feature is part of the growing web of connections for Alexa that Amazon has been steadily expanding. Alexa made timers and reminders a feature back in 2017 but not individualized. Since then, Alexa has deepened the connections and messaging available between devices on the same account. The option to drop in on multiple devices at once became available at the beginning of 2020, but that Google Assistant was ahead with a feature similar to Alexa’s new tool in 2019 when Google Assistant gained the ability to remind people of tasks at certain times and places through smart speakers of mobile apps if they are in a shared Google family group or linked to the same Nest account. Google Assistant even added its own proactive reminders to the feature list last year. That’s closer to what Alexa added early this year when it started allowing for proactive reminders of events with uncertain times, like when someone specific sends an email, or a sports game starts.
The Alexa app has been on iOS devices for a long time, but the new widget slightly streamlines its use. Any device with iOS 14 or more recent iterations of the operating system can set up the widget, which looks like a larger version of the standard mobile app button if they have the Alexa app installed. A long press on an empty space on the screen will bring a plus sign to the top left of the screen as the apps wiggle to indicate they can be moved or deleted. Typing in Alexa brings up the Ask Alexa widget, which can then be placed wherever the user prefers.
Tapping the widget opens the Alexa app and sets the voice assistant listening for voice commands instead of the usual main Alexa app screen. The size of the widget is helpful for quick access to Alexa, but it doesn’t offer much more than that as Apple’s rules on what third-party shortcuts and widgets can do are severely limited. It cuts down on time and taps slightly, but that’s not a bad thing if you use Alexa on your iPhone a lot. It’s not quite as flexible as what Google Assistant, for instance, can do on Android devices, but it’s a step toward better integration of the voice assistant with Apple’s products. Alexa widgets are getting featured a lot of late after the company declared that third-party developers would be able to create them for users who want to put them on Echo Show screens.
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