By now, you must surely know about Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. The outspoken star behind Amazon’s hardware makes virtually anything possible, provided you have the right device. With Alexa-based hardware, you can get the scoop about the weather, news traffic information, make purchases from Amazon (naturally), listen to music, call up a service, control your smart home gadget. The list goes on and on. The bottom line is – Amazon’s virtual personal assistant is awesome. So, how can you get Alexa for Android – namely, on your Android mobile phone? Unfortunately, one immediate drawback about the intelligent agent is its limited availability. And by limited, we mean smartphone-limited.
Like it or not, but there’s nothing more omnipresent than the smartphone. There is no doubt Alexa is a smart and intuitive personal assistant. Nevertheless, if it wants to compete with Google Assistant and Siri, whose natural habitats are smartphones, it needs to move in on their turf. In particular, Android, as the most widespread mobile operating system in the world. In March, we got a glimpse of how that will look with Huawei Mate 9, the first smartphone to come with Alexa. Apart from a few announcements of future collaborations, there hasn’t been much talk of Alexa on Android.
But what about the Alexa app, you ask? Bingo.
Alexa for Android
Alexa, apart from being a vital component of Echo and Tap devices, is also accessible through its app. The story of Alexa App transforming into an Android-compatible one is simple. The app’s initial function was to install your Alexa devices and skills, tweak some settings, and review information other Alexa-enabled devices share with you. You couldn’t actually ask Alexa anything. Amazon’s motives were clear – Alexa was a major differentiator for the company and one of the biggest reasons why Echo and later devices sold so well. Along with openness to third-party meddling, Amazon slowly transformed the Alexa App into a full-on assistant app.
The Android app is available for download on the Play Store with the majority of features Alexa possesses on Echo. You can call and message Echo and Echo Dot owners, as well as video chat with Echo Show users. The same applies to the Alexa app on their Android phones but you have to run at least Android 5.0 for these features. As one might imagine, the remote control is the focal point of the app, allowing you to stream music, get weather and news updates, create lists, control over your smart-home devices and so on and so forth. Interactions with Alexa-enable devices are automatically mirrored on your app with more detailed information available.
Another good thing about Alexa for Android is that it requires Android 4.4 and up. This means older devices can enjoy the company of the virtual assistant. Some features, like the aforementioned calling and texting, require updates. Even so, the breadth of supporting devices should be quite large. Although, one has to wonder how smooth that operation is, considering 4.4 was released almost three years ago. This leads us to the main issue with Android-bound Alexa….
Amazon Alexa Problems
The biggest challenge Alexa faces on smartphones is integration and the subsequent adaptation. Well, Alexa doesn’t face it per se, rather the experience is different than what users have normally come to expect. And therein lies the challenge. You see, you still have to open the app every time you want to use the digital agent. This means that you can’t use Alexa to replace the existing assistant on the device, in this case, Google Assistant. More importantly, it means the assistant isn’t always listening, as Echo users have come to expect. For instance, Huawei’s Mate 9 has a built-in Google Now functionality and is standing ready all the time.
Furthermore, because of the way third-party integration works, a variety of Alexa’s skills are tied to specific hardware and services. Thus, there are certain limitations to using every skill Alexa has. Also, the assistant is cloud-based, meaning it’s almost like an alien on a foreign planet. It adapts well but it isn’t on par with the native services like GPS. This results in poor performance with everything related to you geolocation (ordering a ride or a pizza, for example) as you must specify where you are. Not a big deal for some, but still an inconvenience. To add to a list of things Alexa on Android can’t perform is playing Amazon Prime Music. While it’s odd that Amazon’s own assistant cannot use Amazon’s own service, the reason seems legit – licensing issue.
Third-party Alexa Apps
Alexa Android app is not the only way you can use the virtual assistant on your smartphone. This is done mainly through apps like Ubi (formerly known as Lexa) that use Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service (AVS) for interaction. You need to log into your Amazon account to get access to AVS and you’re all set. The principle and the general feeling is much the same, with support for much of the requests and commands. This includes managing smart home devices and Alexa Skills in the case of Ubi. Naturally, there is a bunch of things these apps can’t do, from shopping to media playback and more. IFTTT is another software version, although fragmented into specific commands.
Alternatively, you can go the third-party hardware route. Devices like ZeroTouch Air Vent Car Mount and the ZeroTouch Dashboard Car Mount add Alexa to any Android phone, albeit only while you’re in the car, if the names didn’t already give that away. Still, there is support for actions like text, calling, chat, media playback, navigation, email, and calendar, making for a fine supplement to Alexa’s Android efforts.
Amazon’s venture into smartphone territory, from the Huawei Mate 9 to iOS shopping app, is a significant step in terms of market expansion. Moving away from the proverbial chains of Echo devices enforces Alexa’s foothold in the digital assistant market. However, it has its work cut as the competition is intense. Google Assistant and Siri, the two mainstays when it comes to smart personal assistants, are already at an advantage. They are tied to the phone services as opposed to Alexa, giving them an edge in terms of geolocation features and instant availability.
In a bid to become the predominant way owners vocally interact with their mobile devices, Alexa for Android is an enjoyable affair. It has its shortcomings and it hasn’t really caught wind yet, but Android support is one step ahead for both Alexa and Amazon. It needs to make it onto more smartphones before Google and Apple, as well as other competitors, push it out of the market. After all that Amazon has done for Alexa, that would be a real shame.