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Image credit: Nicole Lee, Engadget

Third-party Alexa skills can now use notifications

It can also personalize answers based on who's speaking.
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Nicole Lee, Engadget

Your phone gets notifications, so why can't your smart speaker? Amazon is doing something about it.. and thankfully, it's not as bothersome as it could be. The company is trotting out a developer preview of notifications in Alexa skills. If you opt in, third-party skills can push notifications to your Alexa-equipped devices (such as an Echo speaker or your phone) that will trigger both a sound and an on-device alert (whether an LED light or on-screen display. This doesn't mean you're going to be peppered with unwanted speech, though: your notifications accumulate, and you'll only hear what they are when you ask Alexa to read them.

Amazon stresses that it won't allow notifications with advertising, and it wants developers to use notifications "sparingly." You shouldn't get an Instagram-like deluge if skill creators respect the guidelines. And there are already examples of notifications at work. AccuWeather, Domino's Pizza, family finder Life360 and Amazon's own Washington Post all have early notification support for features like news, weather and location updates.

At the same time, Amazon is taking advantage of Alexa's newfound ability to recognize individual voices. As of early 2018, third-party developers will have the option of personalizing experiences based on who's speaking. You may get different music playlists, for instance, or a game that tracks progress for specific people.

It'll be a while before these features see widespread adoption, but they both illustrate how important Alexa is to Amazon -- it's an entire platform, not just a companion service. If Amazon is going to stay ahead of Google and Apple in the smart speaker arena, it needs a voice assistant with at least some features its rivals can't yet match.

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