Amazon’s virtual assistant just got a much wider audience. The company announced it’s integrating Alexa into its main shopping app on iPhone, starting today with a full rollout expected by next week. The assistant can do more than just provide a voice interface to Amazon’s retail store, however – it can also control your smart home, play your music or Kindle books, answer questions, check the news and weather, and take advantage of Alexa’s extensions, known as Skills.
Basically, it’s a mobile version of Alexa that you can use even without Amazon hardware, like an Echo speaker or Fire TV.
It may seem a bit odd to think of using a virtual assistant via a shopping app rather than, say, the existing Alexa mobile app. But Amazon is likely using the reach of its flagship shopping app as a means of marketing Alexa’s capabilities to consumers who may be unsure of how the assistant works, or how it could fit into their daily routines.
This, in turn, could translate into more device sales, once people get comfortable with Alexa.
Like Alexa on Amazon devices, the in-app version can provide answers to basic, fact-based questions, like those about people, geography, dates, music, sports, and more, says Amazon. Alexa can also spell, define words, complete conversions, and make simple calculations. Amazon’s “flash briefing” can read you the news, and Alexa can check on weather and traffic conditions nearby.
You can also now use add-on Skills (call an Uber, order your Starbucks, etc.) and Alexa’s smart home capabilities, through the Amazon app. This lets you do things like adjust your thermostat by speaking, or turn on or off your lights even when you’re not home. The recently launched Door Lock API is not yet available, however, so your smart lock may have to wait, however.
Plus, Alexa can play your Kindle books or your Amazon Music – for a little background music while you shop, apparently? Doing so will display media player controls as an overlay on the screen, which can be dismissed without shutting off the music. Of course, Amazon has a dedicated music app for a better, more feature-rich music experience.
And given its shopping app integration, Alexa can also work as a means of using Amazon’s retail store from your device, to do things like search for products, re-order items, track orders, add items to cart, and more.
To use the new feature, you just press the microphone icon in the app – where before, there was some limited voice search functionality offered.
Amazon did not speak to its plans for bringing Alexa to its Android Amazon app.