As much as Apple's HomeKit system has improved in recent years and the addition of support for the Matter standard has grown the list of compatible accessories, a lot of people still rely on Amazon's Alexa. The smart digital assistant has long been the go-to system for managing smart home accessories for a ton of iPhone owners, thanks in part to dirt-cheap Echo smart speakers. Now, those who have had to endure the Alexa app on those iPhones have some new features to enjoy.
Those new features are the latest in a line of additions that Amazon has made to the Alexa experience, with this latest round of updates bringing a number of notable improvements. And while we'd still suggest that using the Home app and the Apple ecosystem might be a better option for a host of reasons — HomeKit Secure Video being one of them — there's no denying that the sheer number of Alexa-enabled smart home accessories already in use means that probably isn't an option for a lot of people.
If you live in an Alexa-powered home and use your iPhone app to turn on lights, get information, and just generally live your smart life, you're going to like what's going on in the latest update.
Amazon detailed all of the new features in a blog post that outlined seven additions of note. I'm not going to dig into all of them here because some are more important than others, but you can read the full rundown on the Amazon blog.
Without a doubt, the best feature added to the latest Alexa app is a new Map View that allows users to create a digital version of their home's floor plan and then pin smart devices to their real-life locations on that plan. The result allows Alexa app users to "visualize your home at-a-glance, and quickly access and control smart home devices, without needing to scroll through any device lists, remember device names, or open multiple apps." If that sounds cool, it's because it is. The downside is that it's only available as a preview and even then, only to select users in the United States.
Thankfully, the other features are available to everyone including the ability to more easily talk or type to chat with Alexa. Achieving that now just requires the tap of a blue chat indicator throughout the Alexa app, making it easier than ever to find. There are also new search controls so that users can more easily filter by device type and by keyword if required.
Other improvements of note include bringing Favorites to the Home page, ensuring that quick access to the most-used accessories is never far away. There's also a new Shortcuts bar on the Home page that allows the organization of devices by category while also highlighting popular features including alarms and more.
A step in the right direction
I'm not an Alexa user and as a family we're all-in on HomeKit and Apple devices, as you might expect. But I'd love to see Apple put some real time into improving the Home app, making it easier to access important things just like Amazon has here. If there's a timer running on a HomePod, for example, that should be front and center whenever you open the Home app. Simple things like that can make all the difference.
Siri already lags behind Alexa in pure usefulness, responsiveness, and accuracy. And now the Alexa app is starting to show the Home app how things are done, too.
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Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.
Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.