What Is Alexa? Understanding Amazon’s Digital Assistant

by | 06/01/2021 4:18 pm
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Interacting with a computer simply using your voice used to be the stuff of science fiction. Matter of fact, any Star Trek fan will know that’s the standard way people communicate with computers in that future. While voice-based human-computer interaction has been worked on for decades, it’s only become an increasing norm in recent years–beginning with Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant.

What Is Alexa?

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Alexa is the name given to Amazon’s personal digital assistant. This “assistant” is the software that allows you to speak to a number of devices–mostly Amazon smart speakers–and ask it what you want it to know or tell it what you want to do–no mouse or keyboard required.

Alexa wasn’t the first modern voice assistant. That distinction goes to Siri, which was introduced by Apple on its iPhones in 2011. Alexa wasn’t unveiled until 2014 by Amazon. The personal digital assistant first appeared as the software on the then-newly launched Amazon Echo speaker.

At the time, many thought it odd that Amazon launched not only its own line of speakers but its own personal digital assistant. After all, back in 2014 Amazon was still mainly known as the online shopping company and maker of the Kindle e-reader.

The thing is: Alexa quickly caught on. Matter of fact, it could be argued that back in 2014 at its launch, Alexa was even better than Apple’s Siri. That’s debatable. However, at the time, Apple’s Siri didn’t offer third-party plug-in (app) support. Alexa did. And Alexa did this via “skills” which are simply voice-based “apps” you could add to your Alexa assistant giving it new, well, skills.

Needless to say, almost seven years after Alexa’s introduction, it’s still one of the “big three” voice assistants.

Which Voice Assistants Compete With Alexa?

Alexa has a lot of competition from the biggest players in tech. Amazon’s Alexa has to compete with:

The thing with these competitors is most of them, if not all, match Alexa’s skills as of 2021. That is, most are terrific at answering questions, providing weather forecasts and news blurbs, and telling you about your day.

That being said, how good any of these voice assistants are at telling you about your day (ie: what’s on your schedule) depends on which ecosystem of devices and software you use. For example, if you use a lot of Apple products, you’ll probably find Siri much more useful than Alexa, even though you can use it on your Apple devices too.

The only major advantage Alexa has over Apple’s and Google’s voice assistants is the sheer number of devices it is found on.

Which Devices Offer Alexa?

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While Apple’s Siri is found on most Apple products and Google’s Assistant is found on most Android phones and iPhones (via an app), as well as many smart speakers, Amazon’s Alexa’s proliferation is off the charts, comparatively.

Amazon’s Alexa is not only found on most Amazon hardware the company makes, but a swatch of other third-party devices including smartphones, smart speakers, cars, and computers. Here’s a list of them (though it is by no means a complete list):

Amazon smart speakers:

  • Amazon Echo
  • Amazon Echo Plus
  • Amazon Echo Dot
  • Amazon Echo Look
  • Amazon Echo Show
  • Amazon Echo Spot
  • Amazon Tap

Third-party smart speakers:

  • Sonos One
  • Brilliant Control touchscreen home hub
  • Bose Home Speaker 500
  • Bose Soundbar 700
  • Huawei AI Cube
  • Lenovo Smart Assistant
  • Harman Kardon Astra
  • Kitsound Voice One
  • LG SmartThinQ Hub
  • Jam Voice portable speaker
  • Polk Audio Command Bar soundbar

Smart TVs:

  • Many Sony TVs
  • Many Samsung TVs

Digital media players:

  • Amazon Fire TV Stick
  • Amazon Fire TV Cube

Smartphones:

  • Android phones (via apps)
  • iPhones (via apps)

Cars:

  • Select models of BMW
  • Select models of Ford
  • Select models of Lexus
  • Select models of Toyota
  • Select models of Volkswagen

Amazon Alexa can also be found on a number of smartwatches.

Frequently Asked Questions

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