Amazon giveth and taketh away. This week the company has removed the ability to read and reply to emails from your Echo smart speaker, but introduced the ability to move music from device to device.
The latter is a commonly requested feature, as Echo enthusiasts tend to have multiple devices in different rooms, often relocating previous generations as new models emerge. Previously you would have to stop and start music on different devices, but now you can make Alexa pick up where you left off.
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This can be done in a number of ways. The first is to move your audio between groups. Simply say “Alexa, move my music to [group name]” and whatever you’re playing will be redirected to the speaker of your choice. The second is to verbally pause your music on the current device, and then say “Alexa, resume music here” to the Echo you want to take over.
The third way is specifically for owners of Echo Buds. Just say “Alexa, move my music here” once connected to your phone, and the music should relocate to your earbuds.
In addition to adding this Alexa feature, Amazon is removing one that isn’t widely publicized: the ability for Alexa to read your emails, and dictate spoken responses. Echo owners using the feature were sent an email giving them just a week’s notice for the feature being taken away, which is unusually abrupt.
“We’re writing to inform you that beginning on November 8th, 2021, email access will no longer be supported for Alexa customers,” the email from Amazon reads. “This means you will no longer be able to link your Gmail or Microsoft email account with Alexa to browse or manage your email, and any linked email account(s) will automatically be unlinked.”
This means that email routines and email notifications will also no longer work, nor will Alexa’s ability to track packages via shipment notifications. It can still track Amazon packages, but it’s a bit of a blow for people who aren’t completely exclusive to the retailer’s ecosystem. Outlook and Google calendar integration is still supported, Amazon added.
Amazon didn’t give a reason for the retirement of the feature, other than to tell TechHive that the Alexa team “regularly evaluate the features and experiences available to customers and prioritize those that make customers’ lives easier and allow them to get the most of their Alexa experience.” That sounds like an elaborate way of saying that there weren't enough people using the feature to justify maintaining it.
But for those that were, the feature proved invaluable. On Reddit, a couple of commenters mentioned that it was especially handy for elderly relatives who find keyboards or tablets difficult, but still need to use email to stay in touch. It’s also a blow to visually impaired users.
That’s the trouble with cloud-based services like Alexa: if the host company decides a feature is more trouble than it’s worth, then there’s no guarantee it’ll be available indefinitely. At the very least, a Santa Claus voice can be enabled.
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Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.