Amazon adds follow-up mode for Alexa to let you make back-to-back requests

Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

Amazon has added a new feature for its Alexa voice assistant that you will let you make successive requests without needing to repeat your Echo speaker’s wake word, as noted today by CNET. Amazon is calling the new setting “follow-up mode,” and while it won’t let you nest one request into another, it will let you ask make multiple requests back to back. For instance, you won’t be able to ask Alexa to turn off the lights and change the temperature in the same breath, but you can make one request and follow it up with the other without needing to say “Alexa” again.

Follow-up mode works by letting Alexa continue listening for up to five seconds after an initial command. This is signified by the blue ring on an Echo speaker or other Echo device staying lit up. Once the blue light fades, Alexa is officially back into sleep mode and must be woken up with a phrase like “Hey, Alexa” or whatever you’ve set your custom wake word or phrase to. There are some interesting kinks here that Amazon may have to iron out. For instance, this follow-up mode only works when Alexa is “confident” the second command is not just background noise from a conversation or a program on TV.

It’s not clear exactly how that works, but it’s probably safe to say that this feature may not work all of the time at first, or it may register some false positives from a Netflix show in the beginning until Amazon refines follow-up mode over time. In an interesting twist, Amazon says that one way to forcibly put Alexa back to sleep is to use the words “thank you” or “stop” to conclude a string of commands, which may perhaps make our conversations with digital voice assistants more congenial in nature. Already, there’s some debate as to the best way to converse with voice-based AI software, and Amazon, Google, and others have a lot of power in this respect to design the interfaces of these devices to facilitate certain user behaviors.

According to CNET, the follow-up mode setting is opt-in and is available for all devices in the Echo lineup, as well as some third-party Echo devices. Follow-up mode is also only available in English at the moment, and only works when Alexa isn’t being used for another persistent activity like listening to music or an audiobook.

Comments

Googs how you let Amazon beat you to this one holmes

That’s different and requires an "and" in between.

So really not much different at all then.

I was thinking more of the 5 second "still listening" period.
Sounds incredibly useful when I have a second thought or ask a question and want to follow up.

Finally!

Google will come out with something similar soon.

Hopefully.

Thank you

i was saying microsoft should add an invocation like "Thanks cortana" to close the cortana window on pc. most of the time i’m asking her stuff when i’m watching something in full screen, removed from the keyboard, and of course, because microsoft is incapable of making anything actually useful, the popup just sticks around, forever blocking the view.

I submitted a similar suggestion to Google through my Home speaker. I’d like it if Google Assistant would respond to my query, and then continue listening for further commands until I say thank you (or it times out). Or also just stop talking if I say thank you, which would be helpful when it’s misheard me and is off on a tangent.

Beyond the increased usability, I feel like we could all benefit from the added politeness.

Putting aside how odd it is that the Verge doesn’t have an Echo to actually test it, and thus stuck just having to keep saying "according to CNET", here’s my experience:

1) Yes, it’s a toggle per device in the Alexa app.
2) It will stay listening for ~6 seconds after each command, so you can keep making back to back to back to back to…well, you get it.
3) It works quite well, but I’m not sure it’s worth the false positives when you aren’t trying to string additional commands and the speaker is just listening to ambient noise for 6 seconds. I think prefacing them with "Alexa" or using a conjunction like "and" is a better approach, rather than adopting the habit of saying "thank you" when you don’t want to issue more commands. That said, I’m very open to this changing as I use it longer, since behavior is fluid.

After using it enabled for a day, I’ve changed my mind and quickly become used to saying "Thank you" to have Alexa stop listening immediately if I don’t have a follow up command. And, at some point in the day, they changed it so Alexa responds with "You’re welcome." And…then they changed it so she says nothing again. Definitely looks like they’re tweaking the interaction, but I think I like the "You’re welcome." Or, at least an option to have that audio prompt so you don’t need to glance to see if the blue light is still on.

Aaaaaand, now it’s saying "No worries." Guess they’re going to try out a number of different responses until they settle on one.

Is this US only, or available in the UK?

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