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'Alexa, what did I miss?' Amazon introduces voice notifications

Soon, Alexa users will be able to turn on notifications for Amazon shopping updates and select skills, including the Washington Post and AccuWeather.

Crist, Ry

Amazon is giving Alexa the ability to notify you of shopping updates or alerts from your favorite skills, the megaretailer announced Tuesday.

When a new notification comes in, the light ring at the top of your Amazon Echo or Amazon Echo Dot will turn green and you'll hear a chime. To hear the notification, just say, "Alexa, what did I miss?"

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Your Echo will chime and flash green whenever Alexa has a new notification for you.

Amazon

Amazon says that skills from the Washington Post, AccuWeather and Life360 will be among the first to offer notifications. Those will be live by the end of May, Amazon tells me, and more are set to follow, thanks to new developer tools aimed at helping the makers of third-party Alexa skills put the notifications feature to work. Those tools are set to launch "in the coming months."

The feature signals a shift from Alexa as a passive voice assistant to something a little more active. I theorized that this was a direction Amazon could go in back in October, when I reviewed the second-gen Echo Dot. From that review:

There are also reports that Amazon is looking into adding spoken push notifications into Alexa's repertoire -- potentially unprompted interjections to alert you about things like upcoming appointments or bad traffic conditions in the morning. I'd welcome the addition, so long as users get plenty of control over how often Alexa pipes up, if ever.

I also think Amazon could put the light ring on top of its Echo devices to good use here, with pulsing or even color-coded lights as a sort of silent indicator that Alexa has something to share. You could then say, "Alexa, what's up" to hear the notification at your convenience.

From the looks of it, Amazon is indeed working to give users control over just how active those notifications are. "All skills require users to opt in before they'll send alerts to any device," Amazon's announcement reads. You can also disable notifications or suppress them temporarily by putting your Echo device into "Do Not Disturb" mode, using either the Alexa app or a voice command.

Thankfully, the already-live Do Not Disturb mode applies to calls and messages, too. Amazon caught some flak recently after it was revealed that there's no way to block someone with your number from sending your Echo unwanted calls or messages -- a glaring oversight, and a fairly significant privacy flaw.

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