Amazon announced today it’s launching a new messaging feature for Alexa devices in the U.S. that will allow you to send texts – yes, SMS messages – to your friends and other contacts using your voice. Customers can now ask Alexa to send a message to a specific contact, and Alexa will figure out how to route it appropriately – using either the previously launched Alexa messaging system, or by sending it out as an SMS instead, if the recipient doesn’t have an Alexa device of their own.
There is one big caveat, however – the feature currently works only for sending SMS messages to Android phones.
To get started, you’ll need to follow the instructions that appear via a pop-up in the Alexa app on Android, Amazon tells us. In the Conversations tab of that app, you’ll need to select “Contacts,” then “My Profile,” then enabled the “Send SMS” feature to on. (To be clear, you will not send SMS messages from the app itself, only from Alexa devices via voice.)
You can then specify if you want to send a “text message,” or you can ask Alexa to send a “message,” which will be routed to Alexa devices first, then SMS if Alexa devices are not available.
As you may recall, Amazon introduced free calls and messaging last year, but the feature only then worked in between Echo devices, limiting its adoption. However, there were hints in the Alexa app’s code that the company was developing some sort of SMS capability.
The Alexa app itself was also very aggressive about importing users’ entire address books – which led to some backlash last year before Amazon added contact blocking. Now we know why Amazon wanted your whole address book: Alexa was getting ready to be a phone. (Oh, you can also use Alexa with your home phone service, including for landline calls, if you buy this $35 add-on.)
Amazon tells us it can’t offer a similar feature for iPhone users because Apple currently does not offer their messaging API to third-parties. It didn’t say when it would roll out SMS support to Alexa’s international markets.
The feature is live today on all Alexa devices that support Alexa calling and messaging, and does not work on third-party devices at this point.