Amazon is bringing an update to Android and iOS mobile apps that allows smartphone users access to the voice-control capabilities of the Alexa virtual assistant, meaning they can use various functions on their phones and other devices, according to reports in TechCrunch and elsewhere.
Reports from late last week suggested Alexa voice capabilities would be available for the Android app within a few days, while the timing for the iOS introduction, though planned, remains unclear.
The new capability means that users can activate Alexa and Alexa skills just by speaker to their phones as they would with Amazon's Echo devices. They can then use Alexa to listen to music, control phone settings and manage Amazon Echo devices and other smart home devices.
Amazon's expansion of Alexa's capabilities beyond its own family of devices continues to move with startling speed. Just a few weeks ago during the Consumer Electronics Show, we heard about plans for Alexa to expand into computers, cars, and even toilets. And even more recently, there has been speculation about Alexa moving into the healthcare sector.
Alexa has lived in mobile smartphones for a long time already, through both the Amazon shopping app and dedicated Alexa mobile app. However, that Alexa app to date has lacked Alexa's most valuable capability — voice control.
It's not clear why it took this long to update the app with voice control. Perhaps Amazon was deferring to the voice assistants native to these phones — Siri for iPhone and Google Assistant for Android — and was not quite ready to enter what cold be a thorny competitive situation.
But, as the dominant market leader in voice-activated virtual assistants, Amazon must recognize better than anyone that voice will be the key interface of the future for e-commerce and mobile commerce applications, and for mobile in general. And, while Amazon has made Alexa a huge hit by incorporating the assistant into its own Echo devices, the company doesn't have its own smartphone. Amazon's major way into the smartphone market is therefore through apps.
This particular move seems to be all about making sure Amazon stays well ahead of voice competition by controlling key functions through mobile phones as some virtual assistants are still finding their market footing.