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You might not think typing to Alexa is practical, but you’d be surprised

“Hey, Alexa …” might be one of the most-used phrases in your household, but there are times when shouting at your smart assistant just isn’t practical. If you’re in bed beside a sleeping spouse, or you’re holding a baby you just managed to settle down, the last thing you want to do is wake them. The good news is that you can now text Alexa on iOS, thanks to an update to the app.

The feature is loosely called “Type with Alexa” and is currently in a public preview — basically an unofficial beta. When you open the messaging feature, users receive this notice: “By the way, typing with me is part of a public preview, so I’m still getting the hang of it!” In other words, you might run into a glitch or two.

It may seem a bit silly, but there’s a lot of practicality to be found in texting Alexa.

How to use Type with Alexa

The feature is easy to access; in fact, you might have already seen the menu without realizing it. From the main Alexa screen, look in the upper-left corner for an icon that looks like a keyboard. Tap that to open the text menu.

Once it’s open, type in a command — any command. You can type “turn off all the lights” or something simple like “play jazz.” If you provide a command to your smart home, Alexa will respond without a second thought. If you tell Alexa to play jazz, she will ask several questions before starting, such as which of three artists you want to hear.

In addition to performing typed commands, you can use this feature as a sort of search bar within the app. For example, if you type in the word “Skills,” the app will suggest several different categories, including Smart Home Skills, Discover Skills & Games, Alexa Blueprints, Games & Trivia Skills, and Kids Skills.

If you type “Music,” the feature provides several results including Entertainment, Manage Music & Podcasts, and Music & Audio Skills. You can also open the Settings menu for individual Echo devices this way.

You can even ask Alexa to tell you a joke and she will, though the delivery might fall a bit flat via texting.

Why type instead of speak?

Aside from the examples laid out above — not waking the baby or a spouse — there is another big reason why some users will enjoy this feature versus speaking: Privacy. It’s possible to keep your Echo microphone disabled at all times.

Under normal circumstances, this would limit the utility of the smart assistant. With the ability to type commands, you can keep your microphone off while still utilizing the speaker and display functionality of Echo devices.

You can use Alexa as a hub for your smart home, play music throughout the house, and even display recipes, all without speaking to the device and potentially compromising your security.

Texting to Alexa also has applications for those with disabilities. People who cannot speak can use the feature to communicate with their smart home and reap the benefits of Alexa with no need for vocal commands.

There’s no word yet on when the Type With Alexa feature will be officially released, or when it will come to Android. The feature has garnered a lot of attention for its utility, so it is highly likely it will launch on other platforms at some point in the future.

Type with Alexa means peace and quiet

There are several reasons I have relied heavily on this feature since discovering it. The first is that I am not a fan of having devices that feature smart assistants in the bedroom. A wayward beep to inform that a package has been delivered or an alert from Alexa for some other reason can be a nuisance when you’re trying to sleep. Being awakened from a dead sleep by a smart assistant makes one question how “smart” the devices truly are.

With that in mind, I do not have an Alexa in my bedroom, but I do have smart lights. At the end of the day, when I’m lying in bed, the last thing I want to do is shout for the nearest Alexa (the Echo Show in the kitchen) to hear me, nor do I want to scroll through menus when I’m half-asleep to turn off the light.

The second reason is much the same. When I’m comfortable and drowsy, I don’t want to speak. Typing to Alexa is a wordless way to seize control of the home. The final reason came up during a bout with COVID-19, when I barely had energy to move around the house — and speaking aloud would send me into a coughing fit. The feature allowed for control of the home (and access to other Alexa features) without the need to speak.

Advancement in smart features will pave the way to a better smart home, but sometimes basic features like Type With Alexa are welcome additions with benefits that go beyond the obvious.

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Patrick Hearn
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Patrick Hearn writes about smart home technology like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, smart light bulbs, and more. If it's a…
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