**9/14/16 – ECHO UK and DOT NOTE** The second gen Dot became available for order today (see the bottom of this post – there are now Amazon UK links available in addition to the usual US links) and Alexa is now welcome in the UK as well. I’ll be doing a full comparison and write-up on the new Dot versus the old when mine arrives.
The web’s been abuzz since The Information published an article on 9/8/16 claiming Alexa push notifications are coming: that Alexa will soon be able to speak without the wake word being spoken first. Don’t worry: this doesn’t mean Alexa will soon be interrupting conversations, quiet time or your favorite TV shows.
I’m not linking to the The Information article because it’s behind a paywall, but TechCrunch is one of the many trustworthy sites that has reported on the piece. From TechCrunch:
Amazon’s Echo is set to get push notifications, according to The Information, which would allow it to give you a heads up about activity from its connected services, so it could, for example, tell you when your connected doorbell rings or pipe up and tell you when a loved one’s flight has landed.
Full disclosure: I have no special, inside knowledge about push notifications being enabled for Alexa. However, as a skill developer I can tell you this is something skill developers have been clamoring for since the beginning. Now that the Echo and Alexa have been around a while and consumers are wanting them to do more and more, the time is ripe for a major step forward like this one.
Push Notifications Can Be A GOOD Thing
There are plenty of excellent Alexa skill ideas that haven’t made it off the drawing board specifically due to the lack of push notifications—even a few that Echo owners themselves have requested.
For example, a skill that would allow the user to record a brief message and have Alexa play it at a specific time to: greet kids coming home from school, remind an aging parent to take medication, or notify a spouse of an appointment or schedule change. The Uber skill could have Alexa pipe up to tell you your car has arrived. The Dominos skill could let you know when the delivery driver pulls up to your home so you can pause the movie, get your money ready and usher your dogs away from the door.
Push notifications don’t have to be irritating, noisy interruptions, either. For the hearing impaired or those who prefer a silent, visual cue, the push notification could take the form of illuminating the light ring on the Echo (UK visitors click here) or Dot (UK visitors click here), or flashing the front LEDs on the Tap. Rumor has it that when push notifications are made available, the developer can choose to offer either or both methods of notification to the skill user.
Amazon Is All About NOT Letting Alexa Annoy You
The reason push notifications haven’t been allowed up to this point is simple: a top priority for Amazon in all of Alexa’s interactions is that she not irritate whoever is interacting with her. This is also why her built-in interactions (e.g., Wikipedia lookups, answers to factual questions, sports scores, Easter eggs, etc.) are all designed to be as brief as possible. It’s why the Flash Briefing is so…brief.
Numerous times during the certification process for my skills, I’d be pressed by the certification team at Amazon to make this or that response from Alexa shorter, or to slightly change the wording, all in the name of not annoying the user.
Amazon is not about to mess up the momentum they’ve got going with Alexa by opening the push notification floodgates without careful controls. I suspect that when this capability is made available to developers, any skill that wishes to use it will face additional scrutiny from the certification team. And I’m certain that where push notifications are allowed, the user will have to opt-in to receive them: having them on by default isn’t likely to be allowed.
Amazon knows from experience with its Kindle e-reader and Fire tablet lines that when an app (or in the case of Alexa, a skill) does something that annoys the user, the user is just as likely to blame Amazon’s device as the skill.
So don’t panic: push notifications can be a good thing, and you will have a choice in whether or not they’re enabled.
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The All-New Echo Dot (2nd Generation) is now available for order in black or white and will be delivered starting 9/20/16 CORRECTION: 10/20/16.
Special bundles are available too. You can buy five Echo Dot devices and get the sixth free with discount code DOT6PACK at checkout. Or buy ten and get two free to make it a twelve-pack with code DOT12PACK at checkout. You can also bundle your second-gen Dot with a Bose speaker, Hue Starter Kit, Ecobee smart thermostat or TP-Link Smart Plug by selecting those options on the product page (linked below). I’ll be doing a full write-up to compare the new Dot to the first-generation version when my second-gen Dot arrives.
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