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Alexa now understands casual music queries about songs you’ve listened to in the past

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Amazon isn’t first in streaming music, so it’s focused on being voice-first

Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge

Amazon’s been rolling out a series of incremental but still useful Alexa features over the past several months, particularly around Amazon Music — the service Amazon would love for you to use as the default on your Echo devices. Today’s update includes a couple new features that let users request music using more natural or vague language.

People will now be able to ask Alexa for music tracks or playlists based on time passed, like “Play that playlist I played last Sunday,” or “Play that workout music I listened to three weeks ago,” or “Play something I haven’t heard in awhile.” The same applies to genres and artists; you can request a song by an artist that you listened to “recently,” or a music mood you’ve been into lately, even if you don’t know the specific titles.

The new features are small ones, but they’re part of a larger effort by Amazon to make voice commands through Alexa feel more natural and, frankly, more interesting. Over the past six months, the company has introduced things like the ability to create playlists solely by voice, to request music-based alarms, to ask for music based on activities (like “cooking” or “dinner party”), and to query top songs in different parts of the world.

It’s also part of an effort to draw people into Amazon’s Music services by making a lot of these voice features exclusive. Not surprisingly, this new Alexa feature will only work for Amazon Music listeners (which includes both Prime Music and Music Unlimited, the $10 per month service without Prime) on Echo devices, as well as on iOS and Android.

It’s unclear exactly how many subscribers Amazon Music has or how many people these new features will affect. One report last year estimated it had 16 million subscribers, which would slide it into third place behind Spotify and Apple, but Amazon hasn’t confirmed that number. If true, that means it’s still a fraction of Spotify’s streaming music customer base and half of Apple’s, despite the Echo’s success and some of the deals it offers, like $4 per month for unlimited music on a single Echo speaker.