Today is Alexa’s Birthday!
That’s right: on November 6, 2015, Alexa turns one year old. Try wishing her a happy birthday to hear one of several responses (“[wake word], Happy Birthday!”). This tip comes courtesy of Redditor slide_potentiometer.
Image credit: Gourmet Touch Bakery
Alexa Web App: More Useful Than You May Realize
I haven’t been in the habit of using the Alexa mobile or web apps, but I think I may have misjudged the web app, at least. My thought going in was that using a web app to control a voice-activated device like the Echo seemed like a step backward, but if you frequently use your Echo while working on a nearby computer the web app can add a lot of convenient functionality you might not even know is there.
Check out the screenshot below, which shows the Alexa web app running in the Firefox browser for my account (tap or click to enlarge screenshots shown in this post). Here, I’ve clicked the Your Amazon Music Library link (red arrow).
Note: information and screenshots provided here are accurate as of this writing, on 11/6/15, but future software updates to the Alexa Voice Service software, Alexa Web App or Alexa-compatible devices may introduce changes.
1. You Can Set A Custom Alexa Web App Home Page (green arrow)
Notice the URL up there in the web address bar. That’s the web address of the Your Amazon Music Library screen of the Alexa Web App, and you can bookmark it so that the next time you open the Alexa app via that link it will open on this screen by default. Handy if most of your Alexa Web App use is limited to a certain function or screen, and it can be used for any of the screens.
2. Control Multiple Echos and Fire TV Devices (blue arrow)
If you have more than one Alexa-compatible Amazon device registered to your Amazon account (e.g., multiple Echos or Fire TV devices), you can use this drop-down list to select the specific device you want to control and/or pipe audio to.
Note that as of this writing, first-generation Fire TV streaming boxes and Fire TV sticks have not yet received the software update that will provide Alexa functionality. The web app has already been updated with text and screens to support Alexa on Fire TV devices though, and unsupported, first-generation Fire boxes and sticks will be listed here in the drop-down list right along with any household Echos or second-generation Fire TV boxes. You can select a first-gen Fire TV device in the drop-down, but you won’t be able to control it from the Alexa Web App yet.
3. Access Multiple Household Member Libraries (yellow arrow)
If you’ve set up an Amazon Household to give all Household members access to one another’s digital libraries of Amazon content in a Family Library, you can use this drop-down to select from among the available Household libraries when looking for content to stream.
This drop-down will be there on all the screens where you’re using content supported by Amazon Household / Family Library.
The Now Playing Screen – So Much Win!
Below, check out the screenshot of the Now Playing screen (red arrow) and notice the great features there.
As mentioned before, you can bookmark this page’s URL (green arrow) if you want to make it your Alexa Web App ‘home page’, and you can select a device from among all the Alexa-compatible Amazon devices registered to your Amazon account (yellow arrow).
But there’s some new stuff here, too!
Check Out The Queue
When you’re listening to a shuffled playlist on the Echo, you don’t usually have any idea what songs are going to come up next in the queue. The Now Playing screen can show you everything you’ve already played in the current listening session AND everything that’s coming up in the current playlist: just scroll up and down through the list shown at the right (pink arrow). Click on any icon shown there to start playing a song.
Check Out The History
Click the History tab at the top of the Queue to view the Queue for past listening sessions on the selected device. This is very handy for looking up a playlist you were enjoying in the recent past, whether you were listening to it on the currently-selected device or a different one!
For example, if you’re currently using your bedroom Echo and want to hear a song or playlist you were listening to yesterday on your living room Echo, but you don’t recall the exact name, just select the living room Echo to view its history and find the desired song or playlist. Make a note of the name, then switch to the My Music Library screen using the link in the left-hand menu, select your bedroom Echo in the device drop-down, and type the name you noted into the “search your library” box at the top of the My Music Library screen (first screenshot above: the search box is visible beneath the yellow arrow).
Control The Playback
If ambient noise or distance makes it inconvenient to control music playback with voice commands, you can always use the many playback controls in the web app.
An animated equalizer displays over the currently-playing track; in the screenshot above, you can see it over the track “Shazam!“. Click it to stop playback.
Use the standard playback controls shown under the album cover art of the currently-playing track for Play/Pause, Skip To Previous and Skip To Next.
Additional Playback Controls
Click the volume icon to adjust volume up or down.
Use the shuffle and loop icons, to the left and right of the main playback controls respectively, to toggle these playback options on or off. Note that if you choose “loop”, only the current track will loop, not the entire playlist.
Click and drag on the progress bar and the bottom to rewind or fast-forward within the currently-selected track.
Other Audio Programs
Most other audio apps that are compatible with the Alexa Voice Service (e.g., Pandora, Audible, etc.) have a pretty narrow range of available voice commands. For example: you can’t create a new Pandora playlist using Alexa voice commands, and you can’t skip chapters or return to the beginning of a book in the Audible app.
The Alexa Web App won’t support ALL available app features and functions for these other audio services, but it does offer functionality over and above what’s available using voice commands alone.
Here’s a screenshot of the Now Playing screen for an Audible title. Note the chapter selection links at the right, and how you can click and drag on the progress bar to move forward or back within the current chapter.
The next screenshot shows the screen that’s displayed when you click on the Pandora link in the left-hand menu (assuming you’ve already linked your Pandora account), but haven’t yet selected anything to play. As you can see, you can select from existing stations or create a new one here.
Once you start playing something, available playback controls on both the Pandora and Now Playing screens update to mimic what you’d have with Amazon’s My Music Library:
Other audio apps have similar playback options and controls.
Once you give the Alexa Web App a try, you may find you’re using it regularly!
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I love audiobooks, since they allow me to “read” while doing other things, like driving or working on craft projects. Did you know you can try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks with a free, 30-day trial to see if you’ll want to make audiobooks a regular part of your life? If you’re not sold, just be sure to cancel your Audible membership before the trial ends. Set a reminder on your calendar if you want to be sure not to miss the free trial expiration date, and if you still miss it by just a day or two, you can always contact Amazon Customer Support (Amazon owns Audible) to cancel, and reverse any charges that may have been incurred once the free trial ended. If you’ve never tried Audible, I recommend the full-cast performance of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book as one of your trial picks – you can start a free Audible trial right from the linked page.
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