Alexa Skills Can Now Make Money

Alexa Skills Can Now Make Money

Developers of Alexa skills now have a way to make money off their offerings.

Alexa skills can now include money-making features, according to The Verge. If you use Alexa skills, you have probably noticed they’re all free. This is a refreshing change of pace from other services, like app stores on phones that can offer apps for large amounts of money. With Alexa’s available skills, you never have to worry about whether a skill you’ve found is going to end up costing you.

But now the developers of these skills do have some small ways to make money. The Verge notes that now skills can offer one in-skill purchase. This means they can have extra content or special features available for a cost. This can be a one-time fee or a subscription that continues. Compared to many apps, having one in-skill purchase is still a nice change of pace, since so many apps lock feature after feature behind a pay wall.

Developers can also now allow users of their skills to buy items. With Alexa, users could already use their voices to buy products from Amazon. But now they’ll be able to ask to buy things within other skills. This new feature will make use of Amazon Pay, letting developers offer a way to order through the skill. The Verge mentions that TGI Fridays and 1-800-Flowers are already making use of this new feature. With these skills, you can now directly place orders for the companies’ products.

While the skills themselves are still free (and there seem to be no plans to change this in the near future), adding a way for developers to make money through in-skill purchases and the use of Amazon Pay could end up being a big change. It could make Alexa skills seem more appealing to other developers who have yet to bring their ideas to the Alexa skill format. It may also make ordering items from companies other than Amazon much easier. Keep watch on Alexa’s skills to see which ones begin making use of these new capabilities.

Alexa Has New Alien-Themed Game, Is Getting Major Update

Alexa Has New Alien-Themed Game, Is Getting Major Update

Alexa has gotten an interesting new addition, and in the near future the smart assistant may also be able to continue a discussion without using a wake word.

To correspond with what’s known as ‘Alien Day,’ Alexa has a new skill called Offworld Colony Simulator. According to Fortune, you can use the skill on all devices that have Alexa. The skill is a game that’s similar to roleplaying games and that uses voice prompts and responses to challenge you to get away from a Xenomorph. There have been other voice-based RPGs available on Alexa (like The Magic Door). This one, though, is for sci-fi and Alien lovers.

There’s also news that Alexa may soon gain some more useful abilities. TechCrunch reports that Alexa users will be able to talk with Alexa more naturally and have Alexa remember certain things they choose.

Currently, when you want to use Alexa, you have to use a wake word (like “Alexa” or “Echo”). But in the future, Alexa will not always need you to use the wake word when you’re asking follow-up questions. So if you ask a question and then need more information, you won’t have to wake Alexa up all over again and form a complete new question. This will make conversations with Alexa flow more smoothly and be a little easier to manage.

As TechCrunch notes, you’ll also be able to ask Alexa to remember things. You can ask her to remember peoples’ birthdays or other important pieces of information. Then you’ll be able to ask her about that information in the future and retrieve it easily.

All of this is meant to give Alexa a more expansive and useful memory. It will make her more personal to each user’s account and it will make conversations with her feel a step closer to a conversation with a human (though, of course, we’re not fully there yet).

Offworld Colony Simulator is available to play now, while Alexa’s new memory updates are coming soon (TechCrunch says there’s not yet a launch date).

New Alexa Skill Blueprints Offer Further Customization

New Alexa Skill Blueprints Offer Further Customization

Amazon has now given Echo users a new way to make Alexa even more personalized. Skill Blueprints, added this past week, allow Alexa users to program their own customized skills for personal use.

Amazon announced the new ability for Alexa on their Alexa blog last week. Skill Blueprints is a feature that makes it easy to further personalize an Alexa device by creating your own trigger phrases and setting Alexa’s response, building your own trivia game, making personalized stories, and more.

On the Alexa Blueprints website, the feature is explained and the many different Skill templates are described. After logging in to the Amazon account that’s connected to your Alexa device, you can choose from a template and customize your personal skill. These skills are only available on your Alexa devices and aren’t publicly published. You can also have as many Skill Blueprints as you want.

Alexa is known for having some silly quips and fun easter eggs when she’s asked the right phrase. Now you can make your own fun responses with the Q & A Blueprint. You can set up a phrase like “Who’s the best basketball player?” and program Alexa to respond however you’d like. You can also have fun with other Blueprints like the one that “roasts” your guests with custom insults. There’s Family Jokes, which lets you put in your own jokes, as well as Compliments, Trivia, Inspirations (with your favorite quotes), and much more.

Plus you can use these Blueprints to make your smart home easier to navigate. You can use the Pet Sitter Blueprint to enter all the information someone might need to care for your pet (like where to find the food, how often to feed your pet, who to call in an emergency, etc.). And Houseguest has you enter information about staying in your home (and the nearby area) so that if someone is house sitting or visiting, they don’t have to keep texting you with questions about where to find extra paper towels or how to turn on the dishwasher.

There are many other Blueprints available, as well. In fact, there are currently 21 different Blueprints to choose from. Whenever you’ve created a Blueprint, you can go back to it and edit it whenever you want. Amazon’s blog says that your newly-created skills show up on your Alexa devices “instantly,” though it’s important to note that it takes a moment or two for the skills to actually be created. (The Blueprints website asks you to wait as the skill is actually finalized and ready to use—this seems to typically take less than a minute.)

Alexa Skill Blueprints are now available for use in the US. For more information, take a look at the Alexa Blueprints website.

Amazon in the News

Amazon in the News

As is often the case, Amazon has appeared in the news quite a bit recently. Much of their recent news has had to do with updates to their devices, though their services have been updated, as well. Specifically, their Fire tablets, Echo speakers, and Amazon Key delivery service have seen some changes. Here’s a rundown of what you might have missed!

Fire 7 and HD 8 users can now access Alexa hands-free

Users of Amazon’s current Fire 7 and Fire HD 8 will now have easier access to Alexa. Older devices can already use Alexa by pressing a specific area on their screen, but CNET is reporting that these newer models of the Fire tablet won’t need to be tapped on to wake Alexa. If the tablet’s screen is on or if it’s charging, you’ll be able to wake Alexa. This adds a little convenience, making Alexa a hands-free helper on certain tablets.

You can now have every Echo in your home repeat audio messages

If you have multiple Echo devices in your home, you may appreciate Amazon’s recent update. Mashable is reporting that you can now broadcast from one Echo device to all of your others. You simply have to use one of the triggers, including “Alexa, tell everyone to […]” “Alexa, announce […]” or “Alexa, broadcast […]” and then every other Echo device will announce what you’ve said. Even if you only have one Echo, this could be useful, because you can trigger an announcement through the Alexa app on your phone or tablet.

Fire parental controls can now be changed remotely

If you have kids who use an Amazon tablet with FreeTime, you no longer have to adjust settings on the tablet itself. The Verge has reported that Amazon now has a Parent Dashboard that allows people to change parental controls from a computer or phone. You can also use this feature to check up on what your kids are doing, taking a look at what apps they’ve been using, looking at their activity, and more. The Verge also mentions this is only available for parents whose children are using the kid-oriented versions of Amazon’s Fire tablets.

More smart locks will now work with Amazon’s delivery service

If you use Amazon Key (or are thinking about using it), you now have more options and features. According to Digital Trends, there are now five more smart locks you can use with Amazon Key, giving your more choices with the service. You may remember hearing about Amazon Key—it’s Amazon’s delivery service that has their delivery drivers bring your packages inside by using your installed smart lock. Digital Trends also notes that Amazon has updated their service to include video footage of people who enter or leave homes using the smart locks.

Smart Assistant Updates

Smart Assistant Updates

A number of different updates about smart assistants and smart speakers have been announced recently (including current and upcoming updates). Google, Amazon, and Facebook have all provided updates on their smart assistant plans. Here’s some of what you might have missed this week!

Google Home now lets you play through Bluetooth speakers

When comparing smart speakers (as I did recently; read about it in my article from last month), people typically take a closer look at the smaller, less expensive versions of the products. For instance, the Amazon Echo has the Echo Dot and the Google Home has the Google Home Mini. One of the things that set the Echo Dot apart from the Home Mini was that the Echo Dot could connect to other Bluetooth speakers. This meant that the less amazing speakers in the Echo Dot weren’t a deal-breaker, because the Dot could be connected to a better Bluetooth sound system.

Now the Home Mini can also improve its sound. The Verge is reporting that the smaller version of Google’s smart speaker can now connect to Bluetooth speakers. Previously, the Home Mini had a lot of great features but had the drawback of featuring unimpressive sound. Now that it can do what the Dot was already able to do, it’s even more of a competitor. If you already have a nice Bluetooth speaker, you no longer need to worry about the Google Home Mini’s sound quality.

Amazon’s Alexa plans to integrate more with your home products

Amazon has now announced their plans for more upcoming devices with Alexa built in. In their post this past week, Amazon detailed three upcoming products that will have Alexa enabled. These “white-box solutions” are part of Amazon’s plan to be more fully integrated into homes.

One product stands out in particular. The Lamp Speaker from Adition mostly looks like the typical smart speaker from Amazon: it’s a tall cylinder. However, it’s also a lamp. This means even typical household devices, like light sources, will soon be able to respond to voice commands and perform the Alexa capabilities we’re used to.

Facebook’s upcoming smart speaker announcement pushed back

You may remember the news at the beginning of this year about Facebook’s planned smart speaker. As I wrote in my article, Facebook has been planning to release a smart speaker currently referred to as ‘Portal.’ The smart system is supposed to include cameras and a screen for video chatting, and the focus is on social connection.

However, The Verge has reported that Facebook’s planned announcement about the smart device has been stalled. According to most reports on this postponement, it’s likely due to Facebook’s current data scandal fallout and its negative connection to user data and privacy.

What’s New with Alexa (Including That Creepy Laugh)

What’s New with Alexa (Including That Creepy Laugh)

You’ve likely seen Alexa in the news quite a bit lately, with people reporting that Alexa is just plain creeping them out. Amazon’s smart assistant has been laughing at people randomly, which is of course very strange (and has caused some to wonder if Alexa is becoming sentient).

No worries, though―Amazon has a good explanation for Alexa’s random bursts of laughter. And on top of that strange news, Alexa has also been improved recently for other reasons (aside from trying to keep her from terrifying people in their homes). Here’s an update on what you need to know about Alexa this week.

Amazon explains Alexa’s creepy laughter

As you may have already heard, Alexa has been freaking people out by laughing at random. Amazon has now responded and described their fix. The Verge has reported that Amazon is aware of the problem and working on a way to fix it. Amazon plans to change the way that Alexa is commanded to laugh. Alexa will now be asked if she can laugh instead of being told to. The point of this change is to make it less likely for Alexa to accidentally think she’s been told to laugh, which is seemingly what has been causing her odd laughter.

Alexa’s random laughter has been a hot topic for days, with even Jimmy Kimmel getting in on it and poking fun on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Alexa can now understand your music requests better

Alexa will now be able to play your music by responding to more casual and natural prompts. According to The Verge, you’ll now be able to ask Alexa to play music based on things you’ve listened to in the past. For instance, you can ask to hear music you listened to at a certain point in the past, like if you played a certain playlist a month ago. These prompts only work with Amazon Music, not with other services like Spotify or Pandora.

Alexa Skills Kit sound library now available for developers

Skills developers now have an added tool for creating their skills: the Alexa Skills Kit sound library. Amazon announced in a blog post that the sound library was now available. They note that there are hundreds of sounds available to incorporate into a skill. The blog post also describes how to go about adding these sounds from their 14 different categories.

The Battle of the Smart Speakers

The Battle of the Smart Speakers

Over the past few years, you’ve likely heard more and more about smart assistants and smart speakers. Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot have been particularly heavily advertised. This is no surprise, since the Echo is what really launched this current boom of smart speakers.

You might be thinking the Echo is the only real contender in the smart speaker race. If that’s the case, you might be surprised to learn there are actually quite a few smart speakers on the market. If you’re interested in buying your own smart assistant-enabled speaker, keep reading for the info you need to narrow down your options.

What I mean by ‘smart speaker’

You might be wondering what a smart speaker actually is. Technically, there are many different kinds of speakers that could be considered smart speakers. There are plenty of speakers out there that do more than the typical old-school speaker.

However, when I talk about smart speakers in this article, I’m referring to a specific type of smart speaker. This is a speaker that has a built-in virtual assistant. These smart speakers can usually be controlled by voice and by app. You can ask them questions, have them perform virtual tasks, and of course, play music through them.

Who are the smart assistants?

Smart speakers come with smart assistants (or virtual assistants) ready to respond to your requests. Here are the smart assistants I’ll mention again later in this article:

  • Alexa—This assistant comes from Amazon. Alexa comes ready to do all sorts of things, including answer questions, make jokes, play music, give a weather forecast, make calls, and more. She can then be personalized by enabling additional skills that let her do a wide variety of other things.
  • Cortana—Microsoft developed this assistant. You might have heard Cortana on your Windows 10 computer or a Windows phone. Cortana can do all the basic things like answer questions (using Bing search results), create reminders, and give the current weather. She also now has third-party skills available to expand her capabilities.
  • Google Assistant—Naturally, Google offers this assistant. You can access Google Assistant through many different devices, including quite a few Google and Android phones. The Assistant can answer questions, create alarms, make purchases, change settings, and more. You can also enable third-party apps that expand your Assistant’s possibilities.
  • Siri—You likely already knew the name of Apple’s smart assistant. Siri has been available for quite some time through devices like the iPhone. Siri can do all the basics, like answer questions, set reminders, change settings, and more. She can also send messages and make calls. You can also enable some apps to work with Siri.

What options are there?

There are a few main smart speakers that are typically considered the frontrunners—the best of the best. However, some others are coming up against the competition to give consumers more options.

This is not a full, completely definitive list of smart speakers. But the 9 smart speakers listed below are some of the most popular, recent, and talked about options. Keep in mind there are many more features available on each speaker, not just the handful I mention!

Amazon Echo

Ratings: 8.1/10 CNET, 4.5/5 PC Mag
What it is: A smart speaker with Alexa—from the people who created Alexa.
Some key features:

  • Built in Alexa, a well-received and popular assistant
  • Good sound quality from the 2.5” woofer & 0.6” tweeter with Dolby
  • 7 microphones that help the Echo hear and understand from a distance and in noisy places
  • Multiple wake words to choose from (“Alexa,” “Computer,” or “Echo”)
  • Style options, with 6 colors to pick from
  • Connects to Bluetooth and has an audio output
  • 4 buttons on top: action, volume up, volume down, microphone off
  • Also works through the Alexa app (for Android & iOS)

Price: $99.99

Amazon Echo Dot

Ratings: 9.5/10 CNET, 4/5 PC Mag
What it is: The smaller version of Amazon’s Alexa-enabled smart speaker.
Some key features:

  • Built in Alexa, a well-received and popular assistant
  • Small and easy to place anywhere without taking up much space
  • 7 microphones that help the Echo hear and understand from a distance and in noisy places
  • Multiple wake words to choose from (“Alexa,” “Computer,” or “Echo”)
  • Connects to Bluetooth and has an audio output, so you can improve sound quality by connecting to another Bluetooth speaker
  • 4 buttons on top: action, volume up, volume down, microphone off
  • Also works through the Alexa app (for Android & iOS)

Price: $49.99

Apple HomePod

Ratings: 8/10 CNET, 3.5/5 PC Mag
What it is: Apple’s smart speaker with their popular voice assistant Siri integrated. This smart speaker is set up by using an iOS device like an iPhone or iPad.
Some key features:

  • Built in Siri, Apple’s well-known smart assistant
  • Good sound quality from its high-excursion woofer and 7 tweeters
  • Visually stylish, with a mesh exterior
  • Intelligent sound, with the ability to hear from across a room and through noises, as well as change its sound based on where you are at the time
  • 6 available controls on top of the device: play/pause, next track, previous track, volume up, volume down, Siri

Price: $349

Google Home

Ratings: 8.3/10 CNET, 3.5/5 PC Mag
What it is: Google’s smart speaker with their Google Assistant built in.
Some key features:

  • Built in Google Assistant
  • Connects with Chromecast
  • Uses Voice Match to recognize who’s speaking and perform tasks appropriately
  • Works like a Bluetooth speaker, so you can connect other devices
  • Multi-colored lights on top indicate what the Home is doing
  • Responds to touch: mute, wake the Assistant, play/pause, change volume

Price: $99

Google Home Mini

Ratings: 8.2/10 CNET, 3.5/5 PC Mag
What it is: The smaller version of Google’s smart speaker with Google Assistant.
Some key features:

  • Built in Google Assistant
  • Style options, with 3 different colors
  • Small and easy to place anywhere
  • Connects with Chromecast
  • Uses Voice Match to recognize who’s speaking and perform tasks appropriately
  • Works like a Bluetooth speaker, so you can connect other devices
  • Dots on top indicate what the Home Mini is doing
  • Responds to taps: change volume, start/stop, mute

Price: $39

Harman Kardon Invoke

Ratings: 7.3/10 CNET, 2/5 PC Mag
What it is: The first smart speaker with Microsoft’s Cortana built in.
Some key features:

  • Built in Cortana
  • 360° sound from its 3 woofers, 3 tweeters, and 2 passive radiators
  • Connected Skype for voice calling
  • 7 microphones and multiple technologies to hear commands from all directions and in noisy environments
  • Touchpad on top for touch controls
  • Lights indicate when Cortana is responding

Price: $99.95

JBL Link 20

Ratings: 8.2/10 CNET, 4/5 PC Mag
What it is: A Google Assistant-enabled smart speaker from speaker and electronics company JBL.
Some key features:

  • Built in Google Assistant
  • Recognizes commands from across the room with its far-field voice recognition
  • Connects with Bluetooth so you can play audio from other devices
  • Battery powered and portable—its battery can last up to 10 hours
  • Waterproof and durable
  • Built in Chromecast connection so you can cast to the Link 20

Price: $149.95

Sonos One

Ratings: 8.7/10 CNET, 4/5 PC Mag
What it is: A smart assistant from electronics company Sonos, with Alexa built in (and Google Assistant coming soon).
Some key features:

  • Built in Alexa
  • Wide variety of music services available to connect (including Amazon Music and Pandora)
  • 6 microphones that help the One hear commands from a distance and over noise
  • Built for good sound quality using Class-D amplifiers
  • Touch controls on top: volume up, volume down, skip, mute
  • Moisture resistant
  • LEDs on top to indicate the One’s status

Price: $199 or two for $349

Sony LF-S50G

Ratings: Not available on CNET or PC Mag
What it is: Sony’s smart speaker with built-in Google Assistant.
Some key features:

  • Built in Google Assistant
  • 360° sound and a speaker with a two-stage diffuser & bass reflex duct
  • Bluetooth connectivity so you can listen to music from other devices
  • Responds to touchless gestures—wave to change the volume
  • Volume adjustment that automatically changes volume based on sound in the room
  • Splash-proof
  • Digital clock on the side of the speaker
  • LEDs to display what the speaker is doing

Price: $199.99

Don’t forget…

This article gave some of the basics you need to know when choosing your smart speaker. Take a closer look at the speakers you’re most interested in to see even more about their features!

Tech Spotlight

Tech Spotlight

Each week, I’m naming at least 3 tech products you can find on Amazon and that are worth checking out for yourself. You surely already know you can find a lot of cool different products on Amazon, but sometimes there is just so much that it’s nice to have some specific items pointed out. If you have Amazon Prime, prepare to make good use of your free two-day shipping!

Amazon Echo Dot

You’ve likely heard about the Amazon Echo and its personal assistant, Alexa. The original Echo is a taller device with a really nice speaker. The Echo Dot has the same awesome capabilities as the Echo, but it’s just smaller and has a less impressive speaker. With the Echo Dot, it is assumed you will probably connected it to a nicer sound system, though I should note that the Echo Dot’s speaker is certainly a decent one—it just isn’t as amazing as its taller sibling device. It’s also much cheaper, which is a huge selling point. You can use the Echo Dot to do tons of cool things with just your voice. You can set calendar events, add to a shopping list, ask Alexa questions, check the weather, and much more. You can enable a wide variety of skills to do things like play games, check your credit card statement, or play meditation sounds. The Echo Dot can do a whole lot for such an affordable price. If you don’t mind having a slightly less wonderful speaker than the Echo has, the Echo Dot is a highly recommended smart device.

View the Amazon Echo Dot

Tile Mate & Slim Combo Pack

Do you lose your things? Do you find yourself rushing around to find your keys, or your phone, or your wallet, or—well—any of your possessions? Tile is a great way to take care of this pesky problem. This particular Amazon product has four Tile devices; two of them are the Tile Mate, and two are the Tile Slim. The Tile Mate is a small device that can attach to anything—your purse, your keychain, whatever you want to keep track of. The Tile Slim is a slightly larger but still very thin and small device that you can place in things, like in your wallet, backpack, or whatever else you’re worried about losing track of. If you lose something that has a Tile in or on it, you can use your phone to make the Tile ring, and you can also see where Tile last recorded the item being. Tile devices are only supposed to need charging about once a year, so you don’t have to worry about them dying. It also has a convenient feature that helps you find your phone—you can use your Tile device you make your phone ring if you’ve lost it. If you or someone you know habitually loses things, or if you have very important items that you want to keep careful track of, Tile is a good choice.

View the Tile Mate & Slim Combo Pack

Sphero 2.0

Sphero 2.0 is called an “App-Controlled Robot Ball,” and it is exactly that. Sphero is a ball that you can use a device to control it and make it do all sorts of interesting things. It can move very quickly, and it can keep working for more than an hour before it needs to be charged again. You can make obstacle courses (Sphero comes with two ramps), program a course into your phone and watch the Sphero follow the course, and even install games on it. These games are twists on well-known table-top games—their product description mentions “Pass the Sphero,” which is like Hot Potato, and it mentions there are more than 30 apps you can get for it. It has a number of augmented reality games, as well. It’s also meant to be educational, as it’s able to teach about a number of subjects. You might not think you need a robot ball, but Sphero 2.0 is able to do quite a bit and is an interesting spin on the bots people usually think of.

View the Sphero 2.0

Bringing the Internet into the Kitchen

Bringing the Internet into the Kitchen

Cooking is long past the days of just having a physical cookbook and using it to complete recipes. There are now a number of ways to use the internet while cooking. Having access to the internet while preparing dinner or dessert can be game-changing. If you have a smartphone, a smart assistant, or even just access to the internet and various websites, you can streamline your work in the kitchen and get things done more easily. Here are just some of the ways you can use the internet to aid in the cooking process.

Recipe Sites

You don’t really need to keep a cookbook on the counter if you have access to the web. There are numerous different websites with text recipes you can access. One of the most popular websites is surely Allrecipes. Allrecipes lets you search for certain recipes, but it does more than just that. You can search by ingredient, you can browse different categories (like meal type or health consideration), and you can save recipes to your favorites in order to find them more easily later. myrecipes is also popular. You can search and browse recipes, and you can “Build-a-Meal” by typing in what ingredients you have, getting suggested recipes. Some recipes are text-based, while others are videos. A very popular recipe site is also Tasty on Facebook. They create and share the delicious-looking videos you probably see shared all over your timeline. And if these websites aren’t what you’re looking for, there are also specific websites for certain health concerns. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you can visit VegWeb. If you can’t have gluten in your diet, you can try Gluten Free Girl. There are a lot of options out there for finding recipes online.

Apps

There are plenty of apps you can download to help with cooking. Tasty recently began offering an app for their video recipes. There’s also Yummly, which offers recipes and searches based on ingredients, among other things. There’s the Allrecipes Dinner Spinner app, which brings the recipes from their website to a helpful little app. Kitchen Stories is also useful, offering recipes along with tips and tricks you can use in the kitchen. And then there are useful little apps like SpiceBuddy (which helps users find recipes and pair ingredients) and Kitchen Calculator (which helps you scale recipes and more).

Smart Assistants

If you have a smart device, you might just have a great way to make cooking easier. Having a hands-free way to get help while you’re cooking is wonderful. If you have Siri on your device and you’re using voice activation, you can ask Siri to do things like add grocery items to your list if you use the last of something while cooking. You can also ask Siri to set timers and convert amounts for you. Also, if you have your recipe on your phone, you can ask Siri to read it to you. If you don’t have Siri but you have Alexa, you’re still set. If, for instance, you have an Echo or an Echo Dot, you can get plenty of help during meal prep. Alexa skills can be enabled to help with cooking. You can enable a skill like Ingredient Sub, which allows you to ask Alexa what you can substitute for something you’ve just realized you’re out of. Allrecipes has a skill, so you could have Alexa read your recipe to you if this skill is enabled. Or you can just ask Alexa for help with what you need—ask her to set a timer, to convert measurements, to add items to a shopping list, and more.

Alexa Devices Can Now Send More Notifications

Alexa Devices Can Now Send More Notifications

Amazon has now announced that they’re further expanding Alexa’s ability to push notifications to devices. If you have an Alexa device, like an Echo, you may have noticed earlier in the year that Alexa had gained the ability to notify you about your Amazon deliveries. The ring of light would begin to pulse, indicating a notification was waiting. I was confused and a bit worried the first time it happened to me, since I’d missed the news announcement about it; I thought my Echo Dot might be malfunctioning, considering the weird pulsing light. Since then I’ve found this notification system pretty handy. Your Echo can also flash to let you know when you’ve received a message or call (remember, you can make calls and send messages between Alexa-enabled devices).

Now Alexa’s notifications are getting even better. Alexa devices will now be able to display the flashing ring of light and make a sound when there’s an alert from an enabled skill. The skills that currently work with the new notification feature are few, though—right now it only works with a very small amount, and Amazon only names three in their announcement: The Washington Post, AccuWeather, and Life360. Amazon’s announcement mentions more will be coming soon, and TechCrunch names Just Eat and Astrobot as two other skills that were involved in testing. Oh, and don’t worry: if you don’t want these push notifications, you don’t have to have them. You’ll need to opt-in to get them, and you can disable them in the Alexa app’s settings (Amazon describes how to do this on their website).

It’s hard to tell how soon Amazon means when they say “coming soon,” but hopefully these skills will enable push notifications sooner rather than later. People have been asking for more push notifications for some time now, myself included. Many users have asked to be able to have Alexa interact more and easily offer things like news alerts and calendar items. With The Washington Post, at least, these news alerts will be possible, but if you’re not necessarily a fan of that news provider, you’ll still have to wait to get push notifications about news from other outlets on Alexa. I know I’ll be keeping watch to see when new skills are able to send chiming notifications to my Echo Dot.