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An Amazon Echo device interacting with a smart thermostat. (Ecobee).
An Amazon Echo device interacting with a smart thermostat. (Ecobee Photo)

Amazon’s digital assistant Alexa is becoming very skillful these days. She can buy stuff, she can find a lost phone, she can turn on the oven. Now, she can even text people.

AT&T announced a new Alexa skill this week that lets users program up to 10 contacts into their Alexa-enabled devices and send them messages via voice command. Here’s how it works: first, say: “Alexa, ask AT&T to text (name),” then when Alexa asks for the message, users tell her what they want to say and Alexa does the rest.

“Amazon Echo is ahead of the curve in terms of voice recognition technology and functionality,” Jeff Bradley, AT&T’s senior vice president for device and network services marketing, said in a statement.

As part of the deal, AT&T is selling the Alexa-enabled Echo and Echo Dot through its website, giving Amazon more visibility for its voice-activated devices.

AT&T’s release doesn’t make it clear if Alexa can read back incoming text messages. Eventually, Amazon wants Alexa to be able to have coherent conversations with people.

Amazon has been called the “accidental” early winner in the voice-controlled home, leading Google, Apple and others with surprisingly strong sales of Echo and other Alexa-enabled devices. Developers have embraced Alexa, building more than 3,000 skills since Amazon opened it up last year. Developers who want to add to Alexa’s abilities can write code that works with Alexa in the cloud, letting the smart assistant do the heavy lifting of understanding and deciphering spoken commands.

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