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Amazon’s Alexa adds email updates, plus a bunch of cool new routines

It’s been kind of a crazy day in the tech world. Google announced a whole bunch of fascinating news largely based around its massive investments in advanced language learning technologies (you know, artificial intelligence). But Amazon’s Alexa is keeping up with new abilities based around the device’s “routines,” which are programmable features that can activate multiple features of a smart home all at once.

Alexa Routines were first introduced to smart home speakers and smart home aficionados in the fall of 2017, so they’re not exactly brand new, but Alexa’s new tricks may come as a surprise to even the most jaded of smart speaker users. Routines can now, for example, be connected to Gmail or Outlook to trigger shared notifications of important messages.

Timing seems to be a big deal in the latest update. Users can, for example, schedule an Amazon Echo speaker to play the latest news or get a read on today’s weather, then list the events on your Outlook or Google calendar not long after your morning alarm goes off. Routines can also be tied to sunrise or sunset.

The chain of sequences that Google can trigger also seems to be getting more sophisticated. Say, “Alexa, good evening,” and the digital assistant can light the lights, play the music, and perform other tasks. You can also listen to the evening’s news and start the Alexa voice app, which now has access to something like 100,000 Alexa skills.

Smart home users get even more bonuses from Alexa’s latest upgrades. Those using Logitech smart home cameras or devices that access Cloud Cam can trigger routines based on when a person crosses its field of vision. Smart home users with Key by Amazon-enabled devices can also lock and unlock their door with a voice PIN.

Alexa has been introducing some fun and entertaining new features for a while. Some of the app’s hands-free-style games have ranged from quizzes to trivia to fleeing the bloody Alien from the now-40-year-old Alien movie. You can, of course, do more adult things like make to-do lists, explore local businesses, set timers, and even trigger a quick workout.

If you’re a more creative sort, there are plenty of skills and routines to ring your bell. A skill called Translated supports nearly 40 languages, and is an ambitious bid to keep up with Google’s impressive language-interpretation research. Listening to a podcast is a breeze on Stitcher, where Alexa’s commands are numerous and intuitive. Bloggers who use WordPress can now deliver their posts via audio through the Alexa Blog blueprint, while content creators can use the Flash Briefing blueprint to publish and share their latest updates on the Alexa Skills Store. Meanwhile, budding writers, can share their deepest stories and poems with Storytelling blueprints like Fable and Fairy Tale. Finally, universities and religious organizations can use the new University and Spiritual Talks blueprints to make their live and recorded audio content available via Alexa-friendly devices.

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