‘Alexa Built-In’ phones to lose key feature as Amazon cedes ground to Apple and Google

(GeekWire File Photo / Nat Levy)

Unlike Google and Apple, Amazon doesn’t have a smartphone platform of its own for native integration of its voice assistant, after the short-lived Amazon Fire Phone. However, the company has worked with some Android device makers in recent years to replicate the effect on what are known as “Alexa Built-In” phones.

The main selling point: the ability to activate and interact with Alexa using voice commands from anywhere in the phone, including the lock screen, whether or not the Alexa app is open.

But in messages this week, Amazon informed users that the systemwide hands-free capability is officially ending for Alexa Built-In phones as of March 31, 2023.

A company spokesperson confirmed the plan: “We regularly review our features to ensure we are investing in services that will delight customers, and have decided to suspend support for this feature.”

With the move, Amazon also plans to end its broader support for Alexa Built-In phones, although decisions about further sales of the phones will ultimately be up to the company’s hardware partners.

Users will still be able to access Alexa on Android and iOS smartphones when the Alexa app is open, including the option for hands-free access inside the Alexa app.

Amazon is “continuing to invest in the Alexa experience within the Alexa app to provide customers with a seamless way to access their favorite features and experiences,” the spokesperson said.

The company didn’t offer more detail on the reasons for the change, but provided a further clue by noting that Android operating system updates may impact the hands-free experience before the March 31, 2023, cutoff date. Google regularly updates Android, and the feature relies in part on systemwide microphone access.

The Alexa and devices division is one of the groups impacted by Amazon’s layoffs.

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