If you got a Google Home Mini to go with your Android phone this Christmas, one of the first things you probably asked it to do was send a text. But instead of asking what you wanted to say, your Google Home said this: Sorry, I can’t send texts yet.
But starting today, if you ask the same question to your Amazon Echo, it will happily oblige.
Echo devices have long been able to send messages to each other, but now Amazon has expanded that to the Android community as a whole, adding hundreds of millions of new devices to its ranks. Now you can simply say, “Alexa send a text message to mom” and it will oblige, using your Android phone as a conduit.
But first you need to set it up. When you ask your Echo to send a text message for the first time, it will reply: “If you have an Android phone go to the Alexa app and enable SMS messages. Here’s how to do that:
- Open the Amazon Alexa app on your phone (or download it if you don’t have it).
- Tap the icon on the bottom bar that looks like a chat bubble.
- Tap the icon on the top bar that looks like a person.
- Tap “My Profile.”
- Turn the “Send SMS” toggle blue.
Then, you only need to ask Alexa send a text message to someone in your contact lists. After confirming the recipient, Alexa will ask what you want to send and inform you that the message has been sent, but it won’t be read back before it’s whisked away (nor will it appear on the screen of the Spot or Show). So you might want to keep your messages casual, lest something gets lost in translation.
Amazon's Trojan horse
While SMS messaging might seem like just one more skill for the Echo, it’s definitely a big deal. Amazon doesn’t have the luxury of joining a built-in platform like Google with Android or Apple with iOS. Sure, there’s FireOS, but that’s largely a content platform and a niche one at that. For Echo to succeed, Amazon needs to build a strong platform around Alexa. And every mobile platform starts with messaging.
But Echo-to-Echo isn’t enough. One day when Amazon is selling as many iPhones as Apple does it might be, but for now, Amazon needs to leverage existing platforms to gain a foothold. And the largest and most viable is Android. Apple’s Messages is going to be a much harder nut to crack, but for now, that doesn’t really matter. Android SMS gets its foot in the door and will surely put pressure on Google to develop a similar feature for its Home devices. The new battleground isn't on our phones, it's in our homes, and Amazon isn't about to let any of its competitors get a strong foothold.
With a contentious battle playing out between Google and Amazon and the release of HomePod just around the corner, SMS messages on Echo devices is a great way to showcase the possibilities of the Echo platform. With numerous devices, a proprietary calling and messaging service, and now the ability to send SMS texts, Amazon is slowly building a strong, versatile ecosystem that rivals any of its smart speaker competitors. And the best part, it's completely seamless and invisible. When you step into your home, Alexa becomes the ecosystem, integrating with the devices in your home so you don't have to. And now that it can text too, that's one less thing you need to pick up your phone to do.
Amazon learned a valuable lesson with its failed Fire Phone: If you can't beat them, join them. But by joining Android phones, it just might beat Google where it counts: the Home.