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Smart Home

Amazon is rolling out an Echo Dot that brings Alexa to kids

Starting May 9, customers can subscribe to a version of Alexa that has audio books, games and music catered to kids. Plus, there's the Echo Dot Kids Edition.

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The Echo Dot Kids Edition includes a brightly colored bumper case to keep Alexa from getting injured by your tike.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Josh Sherman, an Amazon director, leaned over in his seat toward an Amazon Echo Dot smart speaker wrapped in a bright green bumper case.

"Alexa, good morning."

"Good morning," Amazon's voice assistant responded, "or should I say wakey-wakey, eggs and bakey. No matter what you eat to start your day, I hope it's yummy in your tummy."

Sure, the voice was Alexa's, but it was even goofier than normal.

Meet Alexa, but for kids. Amazon on Wednesday unveiled the new child-friendly set of Alexa services, bringing Amazon's existing kids-focused FreeTime program to its smart speakers. Amazon also introduced the $80 Echo Dot Kids Edition, which is the same hardware as a regular Dot but now includes a handy bumper case to prevent breaks. The new service and Dot will be available starting May 9.

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As part of FreeTime, Alexa was modified to respond to a more youthful audience -- generally ages 5 to 12, Sherman said -- by simplifying its language, offering more follow-up answers to typical kid questions and providing new parental controls.

"We tuned Alexa to be more approachable for kids," he added. Hence the "eggs and bakey" talk, it would seem.

There are plenty of pun-filled dad jokes, too, like, "What does a dinosaur clean its teeth with? Tricera-floss."

Alexa for kids offers Amazon some obvious benefits, introducing its 4-year-old voice assistant to new users at an early age, so they may someday grow up to become Amazon shoppers. Beyond that, it may help Alexa build its value in people's homes. Providing a kid-friendly version could make more parents comfortable bringing the assistant into kids' rooms or playrooms while not having to worry about an errant voice purchase or explicit song lyrics.

During a demonstration of the new kid-friend Alexa at a press briefing in Manhattan on Tuesday, one reporter asked the assistant where babies come from and Alexa was prepared for that thorny subject, too.

"People make people, but how they're made would be a better question for a grownup," it said.

All the details

Toni Reid, Amazon's vice president of Alexa customer experience, said Tuesday her company was "excited and a little bit surprised" by the response to Alexa, especially from families and kids. To cater more to those groups, they created this new kids experience, which adds to Alexa's set of child-friendly skills that are already available

Similar to the FreeTime kids app on tablets, Amazon created a free tier and a paid tier.

First, there's FreeTime on Alexa, which will be offered at no additional cost for Echo users. This service includes new parental controls through the Alexa app and family-focused features for whatever Echo a user wants to add into the FreeTime program. Those features include time limits for using Alexa, explicit lyrics filters and a dashboard for parents to review their kids' activities talking to the assistant. Shopping and news skills will also be disabled.

Second, there's FreeTime Unlimited on Alexa. This service offers a library of kid-friendly skills like Nickelodeon's "No Way That's True" trivia game, music playlists and more than 300 Audible books. It doesn't cost extra for existing FreeTime Unlimited customers and is $2.99 a month for Prime members who don't yet have the service.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The Echo Dot Kids Edition includes a one-year FreeTime Unlimited subscription, a bumper case and a two-year device guarantee in case your kid decides to chuck Alexa down the stairs or dunk it in a bowl of Cheerios.

Following news stories that kids were barking orders at Alexa, Amazon -- with the help of child development experts -- created a way to encourage children to be polite when talking to the assistant. Amazon did that by getting Alexa to offer positive reinforcement when it hears the word "please," responding with "thanks for asking so nicely."

As for privacy, Amazon cut out ads from FreeTime on Alexa -- something already limited on Alexa -- and the company doesn't share personally identifiable data or voice recordings to third-party developers, as with Alexa for everyone.

Going forward, Sherman said Amazon plans to create tiered age groups, similar to FreeTime Unlimited on tablets, and it may bundle its kids-centric tablets with the Echo for kids.

"We really thought about the content that we'd provide to children that would be both educational and fun," Reid said.

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