Amazon.com is bringing its voice-enabled assistant, Alexa, to its U.S. shopping app for the iPhone, a move that will let millions tinker with the company’s most prominent experiment.
When first launched two years ago, Alexa was confined to the Echo, a cylindrical speaker that has since become a best seller.
Then it started inhabiting other Amazon devices, such as Fire TVs and tablets, as well as compatible trinkets such as fridges and intercoms made by other companies.
There’s also long been an online Echo simulator for developers to test their Alexa apps on a browser.
But by incorporating Alexa into the iOS Amazon app, the tech giant is bringing the voice interface to its widest audience ever.
It also addresses a critical problem. Until now, Alexa has been relatively homebound. But this puts Alexa on a smartphone, side by side with Siri, Apple’s own digital assistant.
It’s a move that could enhance Alexa’s relevance at a time when Amazon is jostling for dominance against Google’s Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana and Siri.
It works like this. Users tap the microphone symbol on the Amazon app’s search bar (which until now was simply a way to search products by voice.)
Then talk to the phone, asking Alexa, for example, to “Play the Beatles,” provide random facts such as who won the 2016 election, switch on the living-room lights, or tell a joke.
A user doesn’t have to own an Echo device to make Alexa work on the app, and doesn’t have to actually do any shopping to converse with Alexa.
Currently the feature is available only to U.S. iPhone users. Android owners will have to stay tuned. The rollout began Thursday and will be deployed to all customers by next week.