Amazon today announced a new feature that will turn Alexa into a reading companion for children, as well as new support for Alexa Voice Profiles for Kids, which personalize the child's Alexa experience across all Echo devices in the household. The two features go hand in hand, as the Voice Profile allows Alexa to identify who's speaking, so the device can appropriately respond to a request like "Alexa, let's read." Alexa will then start the reading companion experience, which Amazon is calling Reading Sidekick.
This feature isn't available to all Alexa device owners, as it requires an Amazon Kids+ subscription. This is the $2.99 per month subscription service that also provides families with children access to thousands of kid-friendly books, TV shows, movies, educational apps and games, in addition to premium content for Echo devices, like ad-free radio stations and playlists, Audible books, and exclusive Alexa skills.
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Once subscribed, the child can then direct Alexa to read with them and they'll pick up a compatible book or ebook to get started. Alexa will ask what book they're reading and how much does the child want to read: a lot, a little, or taking turns? The feature works with the hundreds of children's books for ages 6 to 9 that are included as part of the Amazon Kids+ subscription, including both the print or digital versions. When it's the child's turn to read, Alexa will listen and provide encouragement when the child is doing well and will offer support when the child is struggling.
Meanwhile, support for new Alexa Voice Profiles for Kids will also begin rolling out starting today. This opt-in feature allows parents or guardians to create a voice profile for each child in their family (up to four kids). When enabled, the Alexa experience will be personalized to the individual speaking. That means Alexa will automatically apply the appropriate parental controls that have been configured, automatically filter explicit music, limit calls and messages sent through Alexa only to approved contacts, and restrict the child only to the Alexa skills parents have pre-approved. Alexa will also provide the child with access to kid-friendly games, skills, music and videos and will provide kid-friendly responses to kids' inquiries.
While features like these can make the Alexa experience more fun and useful for families, parents have to weigh their comfort with having their children's voices recorded and analyzed and determine how long they would want such recordings stored. Today, Amazon uses kids' voice recordings to train its speech recognition and natural language understanding systems in order to improve Alexa's ability to understand children's questions and requests. In some number of cases, these recordings are also manually reviewed. Parents who don't want to participate can delete recordings associated with their child's history either one-by-one or all at once via the Alexa app Settings. They can also set recordings to automatically delete on an ongoing 3-month or 18-month basis and can delete recordings via voice requests.
However, if the parent chooses not to save the child's recordings, they'll not be able to go back through the history to see the requests their child has made over time from the Parent Dashboard.
Every parent will need to make a decision about what's right for their own household before enabling features like Reading Sidekick or Voice Profiles, or, more broadly about whether they want to bring a smart speaker of any kind into their home.
Amazon says the new Alexa Voice Profiles for Kids should reach all Amazon customers by Friday, July 2. Reading Sidekick is available today.