- Amazon updated its Alexa app to give mobile users hands-free control of the virtual assistant. Instead of requiring people to tap a button inside the Alexa app to activate voice commands, the new version lets them say the wake word "Alexa" to get started, Geekwire reported.
- Amazon will give people a chance to opt-in to use the "wake word" feature when they first open the updated app, though they can adjust the feature later in its settings. Alexa's app lets people use voice commands similar to asking an Echo smart speaker to handle tasks like playing music and controlling smart home devices, Engadget reported.
- To use the new activation feature, smartphone users first have to open the Alexa app, either by tapping on its icon or asking rival virtual assistants like Apple's Siri or Google Assistant to do so. The hands-free activation will be available for its iOS and Android apps in the next several days, per several reports.
Amazon's update to its Alexa app is a minor change that likely won't affect mobile marketers that have created "skills," as the virtual assistant's voice-powered apps are called, or sell products on Amazon's e-commerce platform. For mobile users, it will reduce some friction, removing an extra step of having to tap on a button inside the app to activate Alexa. Still, they need to unlock their smartphones and open the Alexa app before making verbal commands.
Amazon's update to the Alexa app follows a series of more significant upgrades and expansions of its capabilities. The e-commerce company this year announced dozens of collaborations with carmakers, gas stations and providers of connected car technology to make Alexa available to more drivers. Last year, Amazon updated Alexa's privacy controls to address reports that employees were listening to recordings of people as part of an effort to improve Alexa's voice recognition. Amazon last year also introduced more than a dozen voice-powered devices including smart glasses, an oven, in-home motion sensor and high-quality smart speaker.
Voice assistants like Amazon Alexa have become an important part of family life, making them more significant for brands, per a study by voice technology agency Voxly Digital. Its survey found that 95% of U.K. families said it was important that voice-powered apps be from a brand they know, while a similar percentage (94%) said they read ratings and reviews of voice apps to better understand how they work. The study's findings suggest that brands need to be mindful of how they present themselves in voice apps and app stores.
A variety of marketers have created voice experiences for virtual assistants in the past few years, including snack brand Moon Pie, software maker Adobe, Procter & Gamble's Herbal Essences hair-care brand and Nabisco's Oreo brand of cookies.