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Smart Home

Alexa gets location-based routines and reminders

In its latest round of feature updates, Amazon invests Alexa with the power of location awareness, expanded timing controls and more.

Chris Monroe/CNET

In a big Alexa update today, Amazon doles out a ton of new smarts for its voice assistant, including location-based routines, reminders and discovery; Wait Actions and more controls over timers; app notifications; and the ability to read and summarize your email vocally with voice-to-text replies.

For instance, you can now set up routines and reminders that trigger when you enter or leave an area. When you're out of reach of your smart speaker, it will send a notification via the Alexa app. It can also use your location to find and call nearby businesses.

Time-based capabilities in routines introduce Wait Actions -- for example, a Night routine of  "Alexa, turn off the lights 30 minutes after entering Do Not Disturb" -- oh, and there's now a Do Not Disturb available within routines, too. You can set a music sleep timer, and control all timers via voice (including adding and subtracting time for an existing timer). 

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If you're an Amazon Echo owner with kids, you'll soon be able to set up FreeTime routines -- an easy way to enforce lights-out time.

Finally, Alexa now has the ability to link to your Gmail, Outlook, Hotmail and Live.com accounts so you can use it to read, summarize, respond to, notify and manage your email. It can even prioritize by importance based on your email settings and notify you if you've gotten email from a specific contact. Of course, this has huge potential privacy and security implications.

Amazon provided us with some clarification via email: "Amazon adheres to the policies put in place by email providers that restrict the use of [email] content for particular purposes, like advertising. By linking your account, some of your contacts and email are stored in the cloud to provide the service. This information is encrypted and stored securely in Amazon's servers." Regarding your contacts, it will use them "only to deliver the email and/or calendaring service you've linked." And the relevant policies are covered under the existing Alexa service agreement, so there will be no update forthcoming.  

Initially, this feature will only be available in the US.

First published Dec. 10, 12 p.m. ET.
Update, 5 p.m.: Adds Amazon's clarification about how the email feature will use your data.