Tag Archives: amazon alexa

BBC is Launching Interactive Audiobooks for the Amazon Alexa

Audiobooks is a multi-billion dollar industry and many publishers are generating significant revenue from the format. One of the most untapped markets for audio content is the Amazon Alexa and the BBC is hoping to remedy this issue.

The BBC has teamed up with Rosina Sound to produce The Inspection Chamber. It’s an interactive audio drama, that harkens back to the glory days of the Choose Your Own Adventure paperbacks.  The story is a comedy sci-fi audio drama taking inspiration from everything from videogames to existing audio stories. Authors from Franz Kafka to Douglas Adams were cited as inspirations.

“We’ve seen a lot of examples of interactive audio stories which operate like a Choose Your Own Adventure book – short chunks followed by a choice: would you like to go down the stairs or through the door? We don’t think this works particularly well for entertainment – it takes you out of the moment and forces you to step back and consider your choice at a level of remove from the story and in the context of all the other choices you’ve made. In this pilot, you’re actively playing a part in the story, using your own voice – we wanted to make it feel like you’re having a genuine, direct interaction with the other characters in the piece”, said the BBC.

The first episode of the series will be released on BBC Taster by the end of the year for the Amazon Alexa and Google Home. If it is successful, it will likely be ported onto the Apple HomePod.



Amazon to release Alexa-powered smartglasses, reports say

Amazon is planning to release a pair of Alexa-enabled smartglasses as the latest addition to its range of voice-controlled devices, according to reports.

Unlike most previous smartglasses, such as the ill-fated Google Glass experiment and Snapchat’s Spectacles, the Amazon glasses won’t feature a camera in any form, bypassing the privacy concerns that have plagued the form-factor in the past.

Instead, they will focus on providing a link to Alexa, Amazon’s voice-controlled personal assistant, through a bone-conduction audio system, which transmits sounds into the wearer’s head by vibrating their skull, rather than through headphones inserted in their ear.

According to a report by the Financial Times, the glasses could be revealed at a product launch event expected to be held soon alongside a home security camera, designed to tie in with its Echo Show video screen. Other reports have suggested the company will shortly release a new version of the Fire TV, its streaming media set-top box, with an Echo-style speaker system built-in.


The leaks paint a picture of a company doubling down on its biggest tech success since the launch of the Kindle. The Amazon Echo now has a 76% share of the smart speaker market in the US, according to research firm CIRP, with 15m units in consumer’s homes. Google Home comes a distant second, with the remaining 24% of the market.

“Owners listen to music most on both Echo and Home, at least once a day or more often,” said Mike Levin, CIRPs co-founder. “They also use them frequently for information, like asking about the weather or sports scores, as well as setting timers and alarms.



Anker made a tiny Alexa speaker that’s like an Echo Dot but cheaper

If you own an Amazon Echo and want to get Alexa into more rooms of your house, your best bet has long been the tiny, $50 Echo Dot. But now the accessory company Anker taking on Amazon with a similarly tiny smart speaker with built-in Alexa that sells for only $35.

Anker’s speaker is called the Eufy Genie. And while that’s kind of a weird name, the product itself is pretty straightforward. It’s only slightly bigger than the Echo Dot, but Anker claims it’ll offer better audio and pretty much all the same features. So it’ll still be listening for you to ask questions or give Alexa commands, and it’ll be capable of doing all the things that Alexa is normally capable of, like ordering stuff, playing music, and controlling smart home gadgets.

Whether it’s actually better or at least as good as the Echo Dot remains to be seen. The product is being announced today, but it doesn’t ship for another week, until August 16th. But if it manages to at least match the Echo Dot’s abilities, Anker has a good shot at winning over customers looking to put Alexa in another corner of their house.


The Eufy Genie has one additional feature that isn’t part of the typical Alexa repertoire, though it’s nothing too exciting: the Genie will also be able to connect with and control other Eufy-branded smart home products from Anker. There aren’t a ton of them yet, but Anker plans to release some lights and wall plugs in the next few weeks. But given the price of the Genie, you can assume they’ll be priced in a similarly aggressive manner.

Anker also plans to introduce a $40 version of the Eufy Genie that includes Bluetooth support, which might let it connect to external speakers for playing music. That’s something the Echo Dot can do, so the inclusion would help bring the Genie even closer to Amazon’s product.



Coding Dojo partners with Amazon to teach 1,500 developers how to build skills for Alexa

Developer bootcamp Coding Dojo is planning 30 Amazon Alexa Skills Workshops for at least 1,500 developers by the end of 2017.

The Bellevue, Wash.-based coding school worked with Amazon to develop the curriculum for the workshops, which will be held at Coding Dojo’s campuses in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Seattle, Silicon Valley and Washington D.C.

Students will learn how to build skills for Alexa, the voice-controlled assistant that powers Echo devices. They will also receive training on how to get their skills certified for publication in the Alexa Skills Store. Each workshop will last for four hours.

“It’s impressive how many skills have already been created, and we’re honored to work with Amazon to help developers make Alexa as useful as possible,” Coding Dojo CEO Michael Choi said in a statement.

The program is designed to teach students how to build skills for Amazon’s growing library of voice-controlled devices. There is no formal job placement program for students who take the classes —  with Amazon or other companies. The workshops are designed to provide general training for this novel technology.


“Learning how to develop skills for Alexa could certainly make graduates more appealing to Amazon if they applied to work there,” said Ketul Patel, head of operations and finance at Coding Dojo. “They could also easily apply this skill to work for other companies. These workshops also teach building block technologies like AWS Lambda and Node.js that are used to create an Alexa Skill, which are valuable for any developer.”

This isn’t the first time Amazon and Coding Dojo have collaborated. The two Seattle-area companies have co-hosted Alexa workshops in the past and they worked together to produce a series of Alexa developer how-to videos last year.



Why Apple’s HomePod is so much more expensive than Google and Amazon’s smart speakers

Apple is responding to the runaway popularity of Amazon’s Echo smart speaker with a Siri-based competitor. The new speaker, dubbed HomePod, was unveiled at the Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California, on Monday.


Apple is playing catch-up. Amazon introduced the Echo way back in 2014, and Google started shipping its competitor, Google Home, last year. The HomePod won’t start shipping until December 2017, and at $349, it’s about twice as expensive as the Echo ($179) and Google Home ($129).

Of course, it’s not unusual for Apple to charge a premium for upmarket technology products. The iPhone, for example, is one of the most expensive smartphones on the market, yet Apple sells tens of millions of them every year.

In his talk introducing the device, Apple’s Phil Schiller positioned the HomePod as a smart speaker for music lovers. He bragged about the sophisticated hardware in the device. It has a ring of seven small “tweeter” speakers arranged in a ring around the bottom of the unit and a large 4-inch woofer in the middle.



In contrast, reviewers have panned the sound quality of both the Google and Amazon speakers. “While neither speaker is outright awful, I wouldn’t buy either of them if sound quality was my primary aim,” CNet wrote last November. The Echo has just two speakers, including a 2.5-inch woofer that doesn’t compare favorably to the one in the HomePod.


The big question is how important audio quality is for success in this market. Apple is betting that some customers will pay a big premium for higher sound quality. Amazon and Google are betting that most customers won’t care.

Amazon and Google’s smart speakers play a supporting role in the companies’ larger business strategies. Amazon’s goal is to make the Echo ubiquitous to help sell Amazon Prime subscriptions and other digital content. Google wants to get users hooked on as many different Google services as possible to support its advertising business. For both companies, the priority is to attract as many customers as possible, without worrying too much about making a profit from each one.


In contrast, making devices is the main thing Apple does. Apple needs its users to be excited enough about the product to pay a hefty premium. It doesn’t care that much if marginal customers wind up going to Amazon or Google, any more than it cares about customers who buy dirt-cheap Android phones.

The big question for Apple is how important the “platform” aspect of these smart speaker platforms turns out to be. Amazon is betting that ubiquity is the key to success in this market. It is not only selling a $49 mini speaker called the Echo Dot, it is also encouraging third parties to put Alexa, the Echo’s intelligent assistant, into everything from lamps to washing machines. The rapidly growing number of Alexa devices is encouraging developers to create “skills” — the smart speaker equivalent of apps — for Alexa. If you buy an Alexa-enabled appliance, you’ll also be able to ask it to call you an Uber or play trivia games with you.



Amazon Echo now lets Alexa read Kindle books to you

In addition to serving as your connection to Amazon’s vast inventory of products, Amazon Echo can now also read your Kindle books to you.

And unlike Amazon’s service Audible, which provides audiobooks for a monthly fee, the book reading service from Amazon Echo is free of charge.

Called Kindle Books by Alexa, the service allows the robotic voice of Alexa to read any book in your Kindle ebook library. According to an Amazon update note, the service uses the “same text-to-speech technology used for Wikipedia articles.”

That means you won’t get the same kind of color and drama you’d expect from a book on Audible, but as a free service, it’s likely to be pretty popular with some non-Audible users.

To get Alexa reading, you simply utter one of the following phrases: Alexa, read “[Kindle book title],” or “Alexa, read my Kindle book.”

If you want to interrupt the reading, you just tell Alexa to “pause,” and when you’re ready to listen again you say, “resume my book.” You can also tell Alexa to go “forward” or “back” while reading any of your books.

The feature was revealed in a recent Amazon newsletter and surfaced last week by AFTVnews.

To get readers without any ebooks started, Amazon is offering a free Star Wars ebook sampler with excerpts from six novels from the new Star Wars book series.




Logitech turns your car into a Amazon Alexa controller

Amazon’s Alexa platform is no longer confined to the home: Ford, Hyundaiand Volkswagen have all revealed plans to integrate the voice assistant into their vehicles. That’s great if you’re a die-hard Amazon customer and in the market for a new car. For the rest of us, Logitech’s aftermarket ZeroTouchmounts and companion app bring the same dash-based Alexa experience, but to the car you already own.

The Logitech Zero Touch app-and-dock system already offers a hands-free solution to most smartphone tasks while driving. But starting today, it comes with added support for Alexa. This means that in addition to controlling music, sending texts and setting destinations on the move, the voice-controlled application will listen for Alexa commands (once the feature has been activated, that is).

I tried out the updated ZeroTouch system, and other than a few minor setup issues with the “flash briefing” Skill (which delivers quick news hits from various sources like NPR, Fox News and the BBC), it really did feel just like using Alexa at home. There is one big difference, though, which is that ZeroTouch doesn’t have a wake word. Instead, you either hold or wave your hand over your smartphone to activate it. Once the app is primed, Amazon’s voice assistant responds just like it does at home.

Any IoT devices you own that are linked to Amazon’s assistant are now available from within the car. This means you can control lights, thermometers and door locks while driving down the road, if you wish. And, of course, because this is Amazon, you can order items from the online retailer and partners, like Pizza Hut (gross) and Starbucks — right from the driver’s seat, if you must.

What Logitech’s Alexa integration won’t do is tell you about the car itself. That’s a feature the automakers have that the ZeroTouch doesn’t. Understandably, that requires deep integration into the vehicle, so it’s not something I would have expected.

The voice-activated system uses the Bluetooth hardware dock like a key. Drivers add a slim piece of metal (either via adhesive or underneath a case) to their Android phone. The phone then attaches to a magnetic dock and when that happens, the app launches. It’s a slick way of securing your device in the car and getting it ready for the road without forcing the driver to waste time trying to launch anything.

The experience isn’t without its issues, if my demo was any indication. For some reason, my flash briefing would only tell me the weather. I added an additional Skill to my flash briefing but I was still stuck listening to just the weather. On my Echo and Dot at home, meanwhile, I’ve had no problems hearing about the state of the world via Alexa’s debrief.

There’s also an issue when it comes to navigation. If you try to interact with the system and Google Maps has a voice notification at the same time, it overrides what you’re doing 80 percent of the time. The other 20 percent, the system just seems to get confused. While it doesn’t happen very often during highway driving, on city streets, it can be a pain.

Overall, the core ZeroTouch system and its two available mounts make in-vehicle messaging and app interactions seamless and safer, but pricey at $60 for the air vent mount and $80 for the sturdy windshield/dash mount. But now that Logitech has added Alexa support and all that entails, it’s clearly better value than before.

The key benefit of course is that ZeroTouch brings Alexa to any car in an incredibly simple way. It might not feel exactly like the home experience without the familiar wake word, but it’s close enough. Plus, it’s cheaper than buying a new car — and for Amazon users, it brings just enough Alexa to the driver’s seat to make it worth the price tag. And, it’s available right now, which isn’t something we can say about many automakers’ built-in offerings.



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