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Amazon's Alexa on iPhone

With Astra, Experience Amazon's Alexa on iPhone Without the Speakers

App-dicted
December 15, 2016

Amazon’s line of smart speakers continues to grow and now includes the Echo, Echo Dot, and Tap. Until now, there was no direct way to use Amazon’s Alexa, the platform that powers these speakers, on an iOS device. Thanks to the newly released Astra app, you can now experience Amazon’s Alexa on iPhone without additional hardware.

Available for $0.99, Astra is the brainchild of Thaddeus Ternes, who introduced Lexi to the App Store earlier this year, only to see it pulled from the market soon after. Unlike Lexi, Astra includes support for timers and alarms and background audio.

Think of Astra as a bridge between you and the Alexa Voice Service. To ask Astra a question, just hold down the microphone button. Within seconds, you’ll hear Alexa’s voice responding to your question.

So how is this different than Apple’s Siri?

Amazon’s service offers Alexa Skills, which are apps that work with hardware to give you a more personalized experience. To date, these skills number over 3,000, courtesy of the open source Alexa Skills Kit (ASK).

One important aspect of Alexa Skills is the Smart Home Skill API. With this tool, manufacturers can have Alexa communicate with their smart appliances. As a result, you can talk to an Alexa-based product to control lights, door locks, thermostats, fans, and more.

At launch, Astra can perform the following tasks:

  • Control your Smart Devices away from home
  • Re-order products from Amazon
  • Ask Astra to give you a Flash Briefing for your news
  • Find out if there is traffic on your commute
  • Add items to your shopping and to-do list
  • Ask Astra to set a timer for 10 minutes
  • Check sports scores
  • Check movie listings and times
  • Get recommendations for local restaurants
  • Get information about local businesses
  • Ask about the weather forecast
  • Use any Alexa Skill available
  • Test out your own Skills as your develop them

Astra shows great promise of having Amazon’s Alexa on iPhone and it will be interesting to see how it develops over time. It’s a nice way to take a look at Alexa without buying a speaker. The app also serves as a way to compare what Amazon has to offer to Apple’s Siri.

You can download the app on the App Store. You’ll need an Amazon login to get started.