Alexa’s opt-in notifications go live, allowing skills to alert you with lights and chimes

Sarah Perez
What has long been dominated by screens of all shapes and sizes is now being encroached upon by the voice.

Alexa's voice-activated apps will now have a new way to alert end users about updates and new content, Amazon announced today. Thanks to newly added Notifications functionality, Alexa skill developers can configure their voice app to change the color of the LED on an Alexa-powered device and play an audio cue when a notification for their voice app is available.

A small handful of Alexa skills have today turned on this feature, including The Washington Post, AccuWeather, and family locator Life360, says Amazon, burying the lede in an announcement about the addition of Notifications to the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) API.

For example, The Washington Post's Alexa skill will now be able to alert you when there's major breaking news by way of notifications. The publisher says that you can expect to get an alert a few times per day, if enabled, or whenever breaking news occurs. Meanwhile, AccuWeather's skill can send out weather alerts.

If you're worried about your Alexa-enabled devices all of a sudden lighting up and chirping with alerts from your various skills, don't be. Enabling notifications is an opt-in feature - similar to turning on or off push notifications for an app on your smartphone.

But once enabled, the skill using notifications can opt to change the color of the device's LED light, and use an audio chime to capture the user's attention. On the Echo, for instance, the light turns green. These alerts are sent to all of the customers' Alexa devices, except for those that had been set to "Do Not Disturb" mode by voice or through the Alexa app.

Users can then find out what the notification is about by asking Alexa, "what did I miss?" or "Alexa, what are my notifications?" Alexa responds by informing the user of what the skill had sent - like the breaking news from The Washington Post, for example.

If the customer has a non-Echo device powered by Alexa that doesn't support notifications, then they will have to use the Alexa app to see what they missed instead.

Amazon had first introduced the idea of notifications in May, noting that the ability for developers to add notifications to skills and devices would soon be made available through Amazon's hardware and software development kits.

Amazon itself also uses notifications for its messaging and calling system, and added notifications in July for updates about Amazon package deliveries.

However, only select third-party partners have yet been able to gain access to the feature. That list of early adopters includes the trio of skills going live today, as well as Just Eat, which was going to provide order confirmations. But Just Eat wasn't mentioned in today's announcement. Neither were some of the indie beta testers, like the space-focused skill AstroBot.

The feature continues to be in private beta testing for third-parties, Amazon also notes. However, now that notifications are live, Amazon is taking sign-ups from those developers who want to gain access when the public beta arrives in the near future.