Amazon is working on a new feature for its Alexa voice assistant that will allow the software to launch Android and iOS apps with voice commands, a first for Amazon’s assistant and a bold extension of its strategy to position Alexa as a cross-platform alternative to Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant. Called Alexa for apps, the new feature launches in preview form today, meaning Amazon is partnering with selected developers on how they want to use it.
For example, Amazon envisions users on an iPhone or an Android device asking Alexa to open Twitter and search for a hashtag, and the app would let the corresponding Alexa skill do the job by launching the app and entering the search term feed. The results would then appear on the phone instead of being read. Another example that Amazon gives is using a voice request to start TikTok and start a hands-free video recording (in case you are filming yourself).
It’s a new type of interaction that Amazon hopes can catch on and better position Alexa as a viable competitor to Apple and Google digital assistants, both deeply ingrained in their respective operating systems and richer access to apps and system level features as a result . Amazon tried to launch its own phone in 2014 with a forked version of Android. And while its tablets, Echo family of devices, and Fire TV line of streaming devices continue to use more advanced versions of that forked operating system, Amazon still struggles with the fact that it can’t reach consumers directly on mobile devices without first going through Apple and Google.
The acceptance of such a feature is hampered by the fact that while Alexa may be more widespread in the smart home, developers already have to manage two competing digital assistants that are much more commonly used on phones. You can already use Siri to order an Uber or ask the Google Assistant to play an episode BoJack Horseman on Netflix. App makers now need to tweak these integrations to work with Alexa to support the feature – or at least use Alexa skills (if they exist) and reorient them to work for the new app launch format. But that’s why Amazon is launching in preview before making it more widely available as a beta and then as a fully baked feature, ready for consumers.
Amazon has a ton of other Alexa news announcements that coincide with its Alexa Live presentation. Those include a beta for a more powerful conversational AI model for Alexa that allows users to talk to the assistant more naturally, and updates to the technology used to build Alexa experiences (called APL) that allow enhanced audio apps to enable better browser-based Alexa games turn into .
Amazon is also launching a skills resume feature, so you can pause for a moment to complete a task and contact Alexa about the progress of a previous request. Finally, Amazon boasts a quick link beta feature that allows developers to launch Alexa skills from mobile apps, websites, and even ads, as well as the ability to make purchases on screen Echo devices or Amazon.com.