Alexa is Amazon's virtual assistant. It is the fundamental part of the Amazon Echo devices and smart devices of the brand. It is also possible to use it directly from Android and IOS devices thanks to the Amazon Alexa application.
Alexa allows you to consult on a wide variety of topics, such as the weather or sports results, perform mathematical operations and conversions between metric or monetary units, configure notifications or manage the calendar, among others. It is also possible to extend 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 will be made of how Alexa interacts with the user, 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 is 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 by verbal commands, Now Playing, to play music and books, and Devices, where you can add devices and configure them. The menu, located in the upper left part, allows access to the configuration of smart devices and alarms and reminders, consult activity, manage lists, contacts and routines, obtain and manage skills, access help and make suggestions .
Regarding the tabs, they are perfectly structured, allowing quick and easy 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 house. For its part, the menu, available at all times in the upper left part of the screen, is well organized, and has menu options with clear names.
Another aspect to note is that the background is navy 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, listening comprehension is good. Alexa understands most verbal commands, although sometimes it does not understand the user. Sometimes he confuses words that sound similar, for example "tell me" with "story". However, other times it understands a word or phrase that is nothing like what the user has said such as "What time is it?" with "Put music by Giménez".
Alexa skills use Alexa voice recognition to function. In these skills the same failures have been detected, not understanding words like "furosemide" in the skill "Drug information".
When Alexa receives an order that she does not know what it is, either because she has not understood it correctly, or because it is not programmed for her, she indicates it to the user with a message that says "Sorry, but I could not find the answer to what you have asked me "or something 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 you have to say an exact order, not allowing verbal alternatives. For example, to see if tossing a coin comes up heads or tails, say "Flip a coin", but don't recognize an alternative that could be "flip a coin." The same thing also happens, for example, when he is told "What is the height of Everest", which he does not understand, having to say "How high is Everest?". This gives the user some rigidity when communicating with Alexa.
As for the language used by Alexa to provide the information, it is very natural. In addition, Alexa has a certain naturalness and expressiveness, with popular expressions that give her a certain humanity and warmth in her speech, thus distinguishing her from other virtual assistants.
A negative aspect of interacting with Alexa, at least in the applications for IOS and Android, is that the only way to consult with Alexa is through voice commands. Alexa does not have an alternative in these applications that allows you to communicate with her through the use of the keyboard. What he does do is show his answer in writing, as when he is asked "Who is Jordi Hurtado?" or "How high is Everest?", but it depends on where the user is in the application.
In relation to the response time, two types must be differentiated. 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 through verbal commands. Regarding the first, it is practically instantaneous, only being slowed down when loading the configuration options. For its part, Alexa responds practically at the moment when an action is requested.
The Alexa application does not include accessibility options, which does not prevent it from being used by people with some type of disability.
Next, we will analyze how accessible the application and the virtual assistant are for the different types of functional diversity.
People with visual functional diversity
Although there is no option to configure accessibility in the Alexa applications for Android and IOS, this does not present any difficulty for this group. All elements, including tabs, menu options and buttons, are perfectly labeled, allowing absolute navigation through the application. 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 colors used. The background, although it is 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 since the interaction with Alexa to request an action is carried out by voice, it is completely accessible. Furthermore, the text displayed on the screen can be read using the corresponding screen reader.
People with hearing functional diversity
This group may have some kind of difficulty when using the Alexa application. While it is true that navigating through the tabs and the menu is not difficult, interacting with Alexa to ask for something can be difficult or impossible, depending on the degree of hearing loss. In the analysis carried out, no alternative way to voice commands was found, such as the use of the on-screen keyboard. However, the response provided by Alexa can be viewed on the application screen.
Finally, indicate that you can use and configure the accessibility aids 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 operating a mobile device. In this sense, the Alexa application may present some kind of difficulty for this group.
A major problem is that to activate Alexa in the mobile application, both on 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 to them, even though they can read the screen or pronounce 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 commands.
As for the navigation of the application, the assistive technologies available for this group can be configured from the IOS and Android settings, which can be of 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 has. Thus, the application will be fully accessible for a paralyzed person, but not for a quadriplegic, for example.
People with intellectual or mental functional diversity
This group of people is made up of a great 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 deal with technology. Thus, a wide range is presented, ranging from people who barely know how to handle technology to others with great skill in handling it. In any case, the interaction by voice with Alexa to request or require any action makes the use of the virtual assistant itself accessible.
In this section, an analysis is carried out of how satisfactory the Alexa virtual assistant is for the user, as well as how useful it is for the elderly or with a 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 with 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 voice that the assistant uses to transmit information, or that of the user himself. In this sense, Alexa's voice is very pleasant due to its naturalness and the popular expressions it uses, making it seem that a person is speaking. Regarding the language that the user can use to communicate with Alexa, it is the user's own language, since the virtual assistant understands natural language perfectly. For all this, communication with Alexa is very natural, as if you were talking to a person, and you can even have 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 on the spot, with no lag times. It must be clarified that this is true as long as you have an Internet connection and the transmission speed is normal.
But it is not only necessary that the communication is pleasant and that the response time is fast. The correctness of the answer 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 you either do not understand a word correctly or do not have the answer to the request. In these cases, the virtual assistant states these facts very politely, apologizing for it at times.
Usefulness, advantages and disadvantages
Alexa can be a tool of great interest for the accessibility of certain groups. Some possible utilities are discussed below.
- Easy to use. Alexa allows you to perform actions such as searching for information, translating words or phrases, finding the meaning of words, using the calculator, converting between metric or monetary units, checking the time, etc. in a comfortable and simple way by voice. This is very useful for people with visual or physical disabilities who cannot operate a device, as well as for older people with vision problems or who do not have a lot of 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 otherwise could not 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. Accessing the personal agenda and reminders, by voice, and the notification 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 books aloud or play audiobooks that the user has in their library. This is very useful for the visually impaired, and 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 elderly people may have thanks to the possibility of being able to establish a conversation between the user and Alexa in a way that is very similar to talking with 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 searching for information and accessing multiple utilities through verbal commands, as well as handling compatible devices. In addition, the functionality of Alexa can be increased thanks to the development of additional skills by third parties, which greatly opens the possibilities of this assistant.
This virtual assistant is perfectly accessible. The mobile application can be handled 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 way to entering verbal commands, people with hearing functional diversity cannot interact with Alexa, at least from the mobile application analyzed here. Also, people who cannot press a button will be able to 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 and fully accessible skills for these people, be it games, drug reminders or shopping lists.
The strong point, however, of Alexa is home automation. Being able to operate home 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 by older people with little knowledge of technology thanks to the use of natural language to interact.
Another very noteworthy aspect is that Alexa can read Kinddle digital books aloud, as well as play audiobooks, which for the visually impaired is a great tool.
The least positive point is that this virtual assistant does not have any alternative to entering verbal commands, which makes its use difficult for people with hearing functional diversity.
Another less positive point is that Alexa cannot control the terminal's own applications. Thus, this virtual assistant can only control compatible devices and Alexa skills and functions, so it does not replace the virtual assistant of the device, it simply complements it.
- Reading books aloud and playing audiobooks.
- Control of home 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 may be suggested.
- The possibility of managing phone applications with Alexa could be studied.
- The possibility of being able to make standard telephone calls could be explored.