When the Amazon Echo launched last summer, I got one to see what all the buzz was about. Expecting yet another voice assistant, like the ones from Apple, Google, Microsoft, and others, I set up the Echo device in my kitchen. Right away, my kids were using Alexa to play music, my wife was asking for the weather, and I was adding things to a shopping list. We did all this effortlessly while moving about our daily activities – cooking, cleaning, doing homework. Alexa was always there, at our beck and call. What amazed me most was one evening during dinner we were listening to music and I couldn’t hear my daughter speaking. I didn’t want to get up to turn the music down. So, on a whim, I said from across the room “Alexa, turn it down”, thinking there’s no way Alexa could actually do this. Guess what, she did it. That feature alone made me love Alexa.
Unlike Siri and other voice assistants, Alexa allows 3rd party companies, like Ooma, to develop new ways to use it. So my team brainstormed some ideas for things we might do. The geeks in us loved building apps for a new platform. We were pioneers. Being first on a nascent platform would create new opportunities for users to discover Ooma. But more importantly, we realized we could make Ooma home phone service more convenient for customers who had an Echo. We identified a few key features: Allow Ooma customers to listen to voicemail over their Echo device. And allow Ooma customers to dial their phones using voice commands. We quickly put together a prototype. We tested it with co-workers, friends, and family, and then iterated to get the voice commands right. We shared it with Amazon and got excited reactions. It was a go!
I’m proud to say that through hard work at Ooma and the support of Amazon, we were able to implement production versions of the features in a few short weeks, and then launch them at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Ooma customers can now listen to their voicemail through the Echo device or a Fire TV. And any Echo owner, not just Ooma customers, can dial their phone using voice commands, using Alexa. To get started, go to your Alexa app on your smartphone, and search for Ooma in the “Skills” section. Ooma customers, remember to choose the “Login with existing account” option.
We couldn’t do everything we envisioned. For example, although you can ask Alexa to dial your phone, you cannot use the Echo microphone and speaker to complete the call. We hope that in the future Amazon will open up the ability for us to make the Echo a speakerphone. We’ll be sure to update you if and when it does. In the mean time, thousands of people are already enjoying the Ooma skill, the very first communication service to launch on the Alexa platform. Congrats to the Ooma and Amazon teams who made this possible!
Written by: Thad White, Ooma Director of Product Management