Before we get to the UI changes, one update…the beeps are gone! Maybe you noticed, maybe you didn’t, but about a month ago Amazon pushed an update that changed Alexa’s confirmation for turning connected devices on and off from “OK” to either one or two beeps. The beeps were much quieter than the voice confirmation, sometimes too quiet to notice. They also had the effect of dehumanizing Alexa. In my eyes, it was the Echo hardware answering my commands and not Alexa, the personal assistant. Love them or hate them, the beeps have been removed and Alexa’s “OK” is back.
One of the awesome things about the Amazon Echo is that it is constantly evolving. It is also one of the toughest things to keep up with, since Amazon usually just makes updates and leaves the users to figure it out. For instance, did you know that Alexa used to be able to recite Pi to X digits? It was one of the first things I tried when I got my Echo in December, but on Pi Day (3/14) I tried to make a video of it and the feature was gone.
The primary user interface for the Echo is Alexa via voice control, but there are some things you just need to do through the app or the website (alexa.amazon.com). Truth be told, I never use the website except to take screenshots. It has the exact same functionality and interface as the app, so I just don’t see a need. That being said, if I missed the new UI update for the app a few days ago, it’s likely you missed it as well.
The meat of the update comes in a simplified version of the menu bar as seen in this stunning side by side comparison…
So what’s new here?
- The To-do list and Shopping list entries have been combined into one Shopping and To-do Lists selection that leads you to a tabbed menu where you can see both lists in one sub menu.
- The separate Timers and Alarms choices have become one Timers & Alarms option which also has a tabbed sub menu. Both timers and alarms need to be set with verbal commands, but you can make some adjustments from the app. Timers can be stopped, started and paused, and the volume of the timer end alarm can be adjusted. Alarms can be turned on or off, and you can adjust the alarm volume and default sound.
- Amazon turned eight things into one thing by merging all of the music and book services into one Music & Books menu. This significantly slimmed down the main menu. The Music & Books sub menu has all of the same services, but now with pretty icons!
- There is now a Smart Home entry on the main menu, saving you the step of looking for it in the settings menu. This brings one of the major features of Alexa to the forefront, where it belongs.
- Voice Training has been banished to the Settings sub menu, where it belongs. It’s nice to have the option, but I assume this is only used by people that sound like Boomhauer from King of the Hill. Has anyone used voice training? Did anyone really watch King of the Hill?
- Help and General Feedback are now one Help & Feedback entry.
What’s not new?
- SKILLS! I can’t be the only person hating on the Skills section. It’s nice that we have the ability to sort alphabetically, by reviewed ranking or by newest arrivals, or cut the list down to just the skills you’ve installed, but Amazon needs to give this section some love. What this section really needs is categories. It’s currently up to 44 pages and unless you absolutely know the name of the skill you’re searching for, good luck combing through it all. For a phase one of the categories rollout, Amazon can start with just two categories: Crap and Real Skills. The Crap section is where you would find 92.45% of the current skills, like quiz’s and trivia. Real Skills is where you’d find the stuff you heard about in the news, like integrations with Uber, Domino’s, Capital One, etc.
This new update is especially great for beginners, who may have found the original main menu a bit daunting. It also brings one of the best reasons to own an Echo, the smart home features, to the front where they belong. Although you shouldn’t have to use the GUI all that often, it’s good to see that Amazon is continuing to refine it along with Alexa.