Alexa is Amazon's virtual assistant. It's the fundamental part of Amazon Echo devices and smart devices of the brand. It's also possible to use it directly from Android and IOS devices thanks to the Amazon Alexa application.
Alexa allows you to make inquiries about a wide variety of topics, such as weather or sports results, perform mathematical operations and conversions between metric or monetary units, set up notices or manage the calendar, among others. It's also possible to expand its operation thanks to the installation of skills of different types. In addition, Alexa allows the management and control of compatible smart devices, such as plugs, light bulbs or thermostats. This review focuses on the use of Alexa from mobile devices, although certain aspects are common to the use of Alexa from Amazon smart devices.
Interaction is a fundamental part of any system so that the user can communicate with it. In this case, Alexa uses verbal commands to interact with the user, as well as menus, tabs and buttons to interact with the application. Next, an analysis of how Alexa interacts with the user will be carried out, having carried out a series of tests with the application for mobile devices.
The interface in both IOS and Android is identical, presenting the same structure and organization. It's divided into five tabs, which are located at the bottom of the screen, plus a menu. The tabs are Home, where the current weather is presented, some skills and suggestions to ask, Communications, to make calls and send messages ,, Ask Alexa, where you can ask Alexa through verbal orders, In Playback, to play music and books, and Devices, where devices can be added and configured. The menu, located in the upper left, allows access to the configuration of smart devices and alarms and reminders, check the activity, manage lists, contacts and routines, obtain and manage skills, access help and make suggestions .
Regarding the tabs, they are perfectly structured, allowing easy and fast navigation through the main functions of the application. In addition, the "Ask Alexa" tab allows immediate access from any part of the application to the screen to interact with it. In addition, the names are clear and concise, and respond to the functionality they host. For its part, the menu, available at all times in the upper left of the screen, is well organized, and has menu options with clear names.
Another aspect to review is that the background is dark blue, which with the white letters adopts a high contrast appearance, which makes it easier for people with vision difficulties to navigate through it.
In general, oral comprehension is good. Alexa understands most verbal orders, although sometimes it doesn't understand the user. Sometimes it confuses words that sound similar, for example "tell me" with "story" ("cuéntame" with "cuento" in Spanish). However, other times it understands a word or phrase that doesn't resemble at all what the user has said as "What time is it?" with "Play music of Giménez".
Alexa skills use Alexa voice recognition to work. In these skills the same failures have been detected, not understanding words like "furosemide" in the "Medication information" skill.
When Alexa receives an order that doesn't know what it is, either because it has not been correctly understood, or because it isn't programmed for it, it indicates it to the user with a message that says "Sorry, but I couldn't find the answer to what you asked me for" or some similar.
Like most modern virtual assistants, Alexa understands natural language. This allows the user to interact with it without having to speak artificially or using rigid voice commands. However, in most cases an exact order must be said, not allowing verbal alternatives. For example, to see if when throwing a coin in the air it comes out face or cross, you have to say "Throw a coin", but it doesn't recognize an alternative that could be "throw a coin in the air". The same also happens, for example, when it is called "What is the height of Everest", which it does not understand, having to say "How tall is Everest?". This gives the user some rigidity when communicating with Alexa.
As for the language used by Alexa to provide the information, this is very natural. In addition, Alexa has a certain naturalness and expressiveness, with popular expressions that give it a certain humanity and warmth in speech, distinguishing it in this way from other virtual assistants.
A negative aspect of the interaction with Alexa, at least in the applications for IOS and Android, is that the only way to make consultations with Alexa is through voice commands. Alexa does not have an alternative in these applications that allows you to communicate with it by using the keyboard. What it does do is show his answer in writing, like when asked "Who is Jordi Hurtado?" or "How tall is Everest?", but it depends on where in the application the user is.
In relation to the response time, two types must be distinguished. On the one hand, the response time when interacting in the application with the menu and tabs, and on the other, the time Alexa takes to react to what is required by verbal commands. Regarding the first, it is practically instantaneous, only being slowed when loading the configuration options. For its part, Alexa responds practically to the moment when it's asked for some action.
The Alexa application doesn't include accessibility options, which does not prevent it from being used by people with any type of disability.
Next, we will analyze how accessible the application and the virtual assistant are for different types of functional diversity.
People with visual functional diversity
Although there is no option to configure accessibility in Alexa applications for Android and IOS, it does not present any difficulties for this group. All the elements, including tabs, menu options and buttons, are perfectly labeled, which allows absolute navigation through the application. The VoiceOver and Talkback screen readers interact seamlessly with all interface elements.
Another aspect that helps people with low vision to navigate is the theme and the colors used. The background, although not black but dark navy blue, contrasts with the white color of the letters, which allows a better distinction of the text.
Finally indicate that as the interaction with Alexa to request some action is done by voice, it is fully accessible. In addition, the text displayed on the screen can be read using the corresponding screen reader.
People with auditory functional diversity
This group can have some difficulty using the Alexa application. While it is true that browsing through the tabs and the menu doesn't present any difficulty, interaction with Alexa to ask for something can be difficult or impossible, depending on the degree of hearing loss. In the analysis performed, no alternative way to voice commands was found, such as the use of the on-screen keyboard. However, the answer provided by Alexa can be displayed on the application screen.
Finally, indicate that you can use and configure the assistive technology that integrate both IOS and Android in the accessibility options, which improves in some aspects the use of Alexa by this group.
People with physical functional diversity
This section focuses on people who have difficulty handling a mobile device. In this sense, the Alexa application can present some kind of difficulty for this group. An important problem is that to activate Alexa in the mobile application, both Android and IOS, it is necessary to press a button for Alexa to listen. If the person cannot interact with the device, the application will be completely inaccessible, even if they can read the screen or speak voice commands. Another related problem is that those people who have problems communicating verbally will not be able to use this virtual assistant since it does not include any alternative option to verbal orders.
Regarding the navigation of the application, you can configure from the IOS and Android settings the assistive technologies available for this group, which can be a great help.
Despite all the above, the application will be more or less accessible depending on the type and degree of physical disability that the user presents. Thus, the application will be fully accessible for a paralytic person, but not for a quadriplegic, for example.
People with intellectual or mental functional diversity
This group of people is made up of a wide variety of very different cases and situations. The limiting factor for these people can only be cognitive. The application is not intended for any group of people with special needs, and does not adapt its behavior to this fact.
It can be said that the accessibility of Alexa for people with intellectual or mental functional diversity is determined in each case by the person's ability to interact with technology and their own knowledge. Technology that must be taken into account that is not adapted.
It is not a group that configures a specific type of disability, but can be affected, due to age, by visual, hearing, physical or memory problems. Thus, accessibility for these people is determined by these problems, and the same aids already described in the previous sections are used.It should be noted that the management of the application itself can be more or less complicated depending on how these people are handled with technology. There is, therefore, a wide range from people who hardly know how to handle technology to others with great skill in its management. In any case, voice interaction with Alexa to request or require some action makes it accessible to use the virtual assistant itself.
In this section an analysis is made of how satisfactory the Alexa virtual assistant is for the user, as well as what is its usefulness for the elderly or with some disability. In addition, the advantages and disadvantages for these groups will be studied.
The main factor in determining the level of satisfaction that the user has regarding a virtual assistant is how easy and pleasant the interaction with it is. The main way in which a virtual assistant communicates with the user is the voice, either the one that the assistant uses to transmit information, or the user's own. In this sense, Alexa's voice is very pleasant due to the naturalness it has and the popular expressions it uses, it seems that the speaker is a person. Regarding the language that the user can use to communicate with Alexa is the user's own language, since the virtual assistant understands the natural language perfectly. For all this, communication with Alexa is very natural, as if you were talking to a person, being able to even hold conversations.
Another important aspect in the user experience is the response time between the request made by the user and the response provided by the virtual assistant. In this regard, Alexa responds to the moment, without delay times. It should be clarified that this is true as long as an Internet connection is available and the transmission speed is a normal speed.
But it is not only necessary that the communication be pleasant and that the response time be quick. The correctness of the response is essential for the virtual assistant to have quality. In this regard, Alexa understands most of the time the request made by the user, providing accurate and reliable answers. However, sometimes it doesn't understand a word correctly or you don't have the answer for the request. In these cases, the virtual assistant indicates these facts in a very polite manner, apologizing for it sometimes.
Utility, advantages and disadvantages
Alexa can be a tool of great interest for the accessibility of certain groups. Some possible utilities are analyzed below.
- Easy to use. Alexa allows you to perform actions such as searching for information, translating words or phrases, searching for the meaning of words, using the calculator, converting between metric or monetary units, checking the time, etc., conveniently and easily using your voice. This is very useful for people with visual or physical disabilities who cannot handle a device, as well as for the elderly with vision problems or who do not have much computer skills.
- Home automation. Alexa allows you to control compatible devices by voice. This is very useful for people with physical disabilities who cannot move, but can press a button on the screen of the device, or for people with blindness who could not otherwise handle such devices due to accessibility problems. In addition, for the elderly it may be of interest since it facilitates the manipulation of household devices.
- Memory Access to the personal agenda and reminders, by voice, and the announcement of events or the creation of routines can be very useful for older people who have memory problems. In addition, with skills such as Memory, memory can be exercised, which results in a very important benefit for the mental health of these people.
- Audiobooks. Alexa can read Kinddle's books aloud or play the audiobooks that the user has in their library. This is very useful for people with visual disabilities, and it can be interesting for people who cannot use a book. It can also be useful for older people with a vision problem typical of age.
- Loneliness. There are certain studies that have shown that Alexa contributes to improving the loneliness that certain older people may have thanks to the possibility of being able to establish conversation between the user and Alexa in much the same way as talking to a person.
Alexa is Amazon's virtual assistant. It can be used from the Android and IOS mobile application, and is integrated into all Amazon smart devices. It allows you to search for information and access multiple utilities through verbal orders, as well as handle compatible devices. In addition, Alexa functionality can be increased thanks to the development of additional skills by third parties, which greatly opens up the possibilities of this assistant.
This virtual assistant is perfectly accessible. The mobile application can be managed by people with some type of disability, and since it is handled by voice it is accessible to almost all groups. However, since the application has no alternative form to the entry of verbal orders, people with auditory functional diversity cannot interact with Alexa, at least from the mobile application analyzed here. Nor can people who cannot press a button use Amazon Alexa.
The possibility of developing skills by third parties, thus increasing the functionality of Alexa, is of great interest to people with disabilities. Any developer can create useful skills for these people and completely accessible, be they games, medicine reminders or shopping lists.
Alexa's strong point, however, is home automation. Being able to handle household devices using voice commands is a great help for people with disabilities, especially for people with blindness who have access to devices that would not otherwise be accessible, and for people with physical disabilities who have mobility problems . In addition, it can greatly facilitate its use to older people with little knowledge in technology because a natural language is used to interact.
Another very noteworthy aspect is that Alexa can read Kinddle digital books aloud, as well as play audiobooks, which for people with visual disabilities is a great tool.
The least positive point is that this virtual assistant does not have any alternative to the input of verbal commands, which makes it difficult for people with functional auditory diversity.
Another less positive point is that Alexa cannot control the terminal's own applications. Thus, this virtual assistant can only control the compatible devices and Alexa functions and skills, so it does not replace the virtual assistant of the device, it simply complements it.
- Reading aloud of books and reproduction of audiobooks.
- Control of household devices by voice.
- Possibility of increasing its functionality through skills.
- Expressive and natural voice that uses popular expressions.
- The development of an alternative to voice command input can be suggested.
- The possibility of handling phone applications with Alexa could be studied.
- The possibility of making standard telephone calls could be studied.