Amazon unveiled their new Echo Show this week, a new member of the Amazon Echo line with a built in touch screen. With it, we also got a new way to interact with Alexa, messaging and “phone” calls.
Alexa has some new tricks
What is it?
Amazon showed this off rather extensively in their debut video for the new Echo Show.
These new calling and messaging features essentially turn your Echo into a hands-free telephone. You can say “Alexa, send John a message,” Alexa will ask you what message you want to send, and then you can speak your message. It’s sent immediately and will notify John on both his Echo and his phone. The top of the Echo will glow green to notify John of the message, and it will make a sound indicating a new message has arrived. Alternatively, you can say “Alexa, call John” and then you will just call his Echo as if it were a regular old phone.
Amazon has also updated their Alexa app for iOS and Android to support this, so you can also send messages from your phone. There is a new tab at the bottom of the app for conversations. As a bonus, if you’d rather text your message, you can do that and Alexa will read it out loud for the recipient.
Whether you send voice messages or text back and forth, the Alexa app tracks the conversation with voice-to-text services that it presents in the Alexa app. You can replay any message you have previously received by tapping the play button next to each message.
How do I turn this on?
Anyone who owns an Echo (whether it be the full Echo, the Echo Dot, or Echo Look) can start taking advantage of today. If you already own an Echo (or two or three…) then all you need to do is update the Alexa app on our phone (iOS/Android) and the app will ask you to enter your name and get access to notifications and your contacts. Neither is required, but you’ll probably at least want to grant notification access so you’ll know when someone is trying to get a hold of you.
Alexa Calling and Messaging onboarding
Once you’re in, tap on the chat bubble icon at the bottom of the screen to get into your chats.
This interface should be pretty familiar to most people. The main page will fill up with your chats, while the top right of the page has icons for your contacts and starting a new message. What is really cool is that Amazon will transcribe your voice messages (not your phone calls) and display the text in-line. Tapping the play button next to any message will replay the audio.
When you are on the chat screen, you have 3 options of how to communicate with them.
- Tap and hold the blue microphone button at the bottom of the screen, This will record your voice and send the message to that person. They will hear your voice come out of their Echo, and they will see the text in the Alexa app on their phone.
- Tap the keyboard icon at the bottom right of the screen to bring up a keyboard and type out a message. In this case the other person will hear Alexa’s voice speak the message on their Echo and they’ll just see the text in their Alexa app.
- Tap the phone icon in the top right of the screen to start calling the person immediately. They’ll be able to take the call from their Echo or the Alexa app.
And of course all of this is free.
We’re still scratching the surface of this new service from Amazon, so I’m personally excited to see if it takes off. There’s a chance this is a dud and we decide smartphones and tablets take care of all this well enough on their own.