Amazon’s getting crazy with the Alexa updates this year. The trillion-dollar empire today announced dozens of upcoming features for its virtual assistant, the majority of which should roll out on Echo devices by year’s end. Read on to learn about the ones we’re most excited about.
First up is a feature I’ve been waiting for since the moment I met Alexa: A way to quiet it down without walking across the room and changing the volume. Amazon introduced Whisper Mode today, a feature that’ll let you whisper a command to Alexa, prompting it to respond with a whisper of its own.
If you’re like me, you use your Echo devices for music. And that means, from time to time, you’re going to leave the volume turned up. There’s nothing worse than quietly asking Alexa what time it is and causing the speaker to boom out “It’s five-thirty AM” to the chagrin of your entire family – especially if you’ve got a sleeping baby. Suffice to say, I cannot wait for this feature and I’d like to shake the hand of the person responsible for it.
Another cool feature is “Hunches.” Amazon says Alexa will start guessing whether you’re happy with your life choices and offer to help you make better decisions. Okay, it’s not that, and Amazon didn’t say that. What it actually is, however, seems very useful: Alexa will observe how you typically use your home’s smart devices, like lights and locks, and let you know if things don’t seem normal.
So, for example, if you say “Goodnight Alexa,” and the front door is unlocked, it may have a hunch you’d like it locked, and respond with “Goodnight, I noticed the front door was unlocked. Would you like me to lock it?” This is another great feature, and yet another reason to fall back in love with smart speakers. Last year’s most popular novelty item is beginning to live up to its “smart assistant” label.
But wait there’s more: Amazon also announced Alexa Guard. This feature uses your Echo device to add an extra layer of home security when you’re away – putting those far-field microphone arrays to excellent use. Once the feature rolls out, Echo owners can simply say “Alexa, I’m leaving,” and your device will send you text alerts if it hears the sound of breaking glass, or a smoke detector or carbon-monoxide detector alarm. I wrote about how having the motion detector on the Cloud Cam gave me a peace of mind I didn’t know I could have – this takes that to another level.
Guard can also take advantage of Away Lighting – Alexa will flash lights on and off to deter intruders, provided you have the requisite smart lights – and it integrates with ADT and other alarm systems.
Another interesting upcoming feature is Local Voice Control. Currently if your internet goes down and you try to use an Alexa device you’ll get the standard “Sorry, I’m having trouble connecting. Please try again later” response. But the new Echo Show and Echo Plus devices, which feature a built-in smart hub, will still be able to control your smart devices locally even if they can’t access the cloud to tell you what the weather’s going to be like on Friday.
Other nifty updates include multi-step list commands – you’ll be able to add more than one item to a list at a time – and location-based reminders, which are exactly what they sound like.