Amazon’s digital assistant just landed on iOS, and it’s giving Siri a run for its money.
You can now talk to Alexa via Amazon’s official shopping app. The update dropped Thursday for many users, and it provides answers to serious questions (“what is a black hole?”), along with terrible jokes (“Why did the chicken cross the playground? To get to the other slide”) and, of course, shopping suggestions. Amazon says it’ll be rolling out to everyone over the next week.
It works well and will be instantly familiar to anyone who owns an Echo device—Amazon’s popular brand of A.I.-powered assistants that pipe up in response to vocal commands.
Update your Amazon app, tap the microphone next to the search bar and speak your query out loud to use the feature. It’ll provide some suggestions to get you started:
Per the list, we asked Alexa to explain a black hole, and it read a clear, informative definition out loud. Depending on your preference, you might find that it does a better job than Siri, Apple’s own digital assistant. Ask Siri about a black hole and it’ll display a chunk of text on your screen, which isn’t so helpful if you’re not in a position to sit there and read.
Google’s assistant, available via the standalone Google app on iOS, fell somewhere in between: Its definition was less complete, but it read it out loud and displayed the text on-screen.
Of course, Amazon’s primary goal is to sell you things. On that front, Alexa does a good job. I asked it to order cat litter, and it displayed a handy list of options that I’ve previously purchased on Amazon—but I had to confirm my identity with Touch ID first, so no one else could have placed an order using my information.
Alexa was also able to show me a list of best-selling nonfiction when I asked.
While it might seem strange that Alexa is folded into Amazon’s shopping app rather than a standalone program, it’s a savvy business play. Get accustomed to pestering Alexa, rather than Siri or Google, and you’ll be pulling up Amazon’s store more frequently than ever before.
The digital assistant has been a boon to Amazon, doing much to bolster the company’s reputation as a legitimate consumer tech enterprise after failures like the Fire Phone. Amazon claims it sold “millions” of Alexa devices last year, with a 900 percent increase over the holidays compared to the same time in 2015.
Digital assistants like Alexa have become the hot thing in tech, even if they seem a bit gimmicky. They provide another avenue for companies to collect your data and sell you things, and if you become reliant on them, you’re more likely to use their products moving forward. If you really love Siri, you wouldn’t want to switch from an iPhone to an Android.
But Alexa isn’t tethered to a phone operating system, which means Amazon can dig its tendrils in regardless of what device you use. From that perspective, don’t be surprised if you find Alexa popping up in even more products moving forward.