Hey Alexa, Amazon’s Echo has arrived in Ireland with some fairly sound apps

26 Jan 2018

Amazon Echo Dot (second generation). Image: Zapp2Photo/Shutterstock

Home automation revolution finds its voice as Echo makes its way to Irish shores.

Amazon’s AI-enabled voice assistant Alexa is now available in Ireland and its arrival has been accompanied by some pretty nifty entertainment apps.

The e-commerce giant has revealed that the all-new Amazon Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Plus are now shipping to Ireland from Amazon.co.uk.

‘Customers can just ask Alexa to provide information, play music, make calls, send messages and use thousands of skills – including locally developed skills from developers including RTÉ, Irish Radioplayer, Ryanair and more’

As well as the hardware, Amazon Music Unlimited with a catalogue of over 40m songs is available for €3.99 per Echo device.

The Alexa Skills Kit and Alexa Voice Service are also available for developers in Ireland to build apps – known in Alexa vernacular as ‘skills’ – for Alexa-enabled devices in the Irish market.

Alexa skills in Ireland

Already out of the gates is the popular Irish Radioplayer service, developed in partnership between national broadcaster RTÉ and the Independent Broadcasters of Ireland (IBI) which represents 34 local stations across Ireland. The service’s new Alexa skill allows direct access to every Irish radio station via Amazon Alexa devices, such as Amazon Echo, using just your voice.

“Our duty to the audience is to adapt to new technologies and habits, so, we have worked with Amazon to ensure that every Irish station is available through their exciting products at launch,” said JP Coakley, head of broadcast and media services in RTÉ.

RTÉ has also partnered with Ireland’s national meteorological service Met Éireann and other new skills available are RTÉ News and Nuacht. You can find out more about RTÉ’s Alexa skills at www.rte.ie/voice.

“RTÉ is consistently exploring new technologies, creating digital content and exploring future digital possibilities, including new journalism formats and platforms for RTÉ to reach its audiences in new and innovative ways,” explained Aisling McCabe, director of strategic platforms and partnerships at RTÉ. “These new skills on Amazon Alexa further extend the reach of RTÉ services.”

Wireless Group, a UK and Ireland media company that comprises 16 radio stations across Ireland, England and Wales has launched all of its seven Irish stations on Amazon’s Alexa. The team at Wireless Group has been working on creating custom Alexa skills for their leading Irish stations: Dublin’s Q102 and FM104, Cork’s 96FM and C103, Limerick’s Live95FM, Drogheda’s LMFM and Belfast’s U105.

Alexa users who wish to listen to the stations can enable the skill via their Alexa app or by saying, “Alexa, enable FM104,” or, “Alexa, enable 96FM.” Once enabled, customers use just their voice to tune to their chosen station by saying, “Alexa, play FM104.”

“We have broken new ground here in the smart home arena in Ireland with today’s launch,” said Scott Williams, group content director at Wireless Group Ireland. “It’s yet another touch point for radio fans and the opportunities to interact with listeners are plentiful.”

Alexa versus Siri

The move by Amazon into the Irish market comes the same week that Apple revealed its HomePod rival to Echo will launch in the US, UK and Australia on 9 February, following in France and Germany this spring.

The all-new Amazon Echo features second-generation far-field voice technology, and its audio design includes a dedicated tweeter, a 2.5-inch down-firing woofer, and Dolby processing to deliver crisp vocals and dynamic bass.

Echo Dot uses the same far-field voice recognition as the Echo, and is designed so you can put an Echo Dot into every room. Use the built-in speaker to talk to Alexa and listen to music, or connect to speakers through Bluetooth or a 3.5mm stereo cable.

Alexa – the brain behind Echo – is built in the cloud, so the technology is always evolving, or getting smarter. Users can just ask and Alexa will answer questions, play music, read the news, set timers and alarms, check your calendar, and much more.

A spokesperson for Amazon said that customers in Ireland will be able to access the majority of features currently available in the UK on Amazon Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Plus – including the ability to make calls and send messages from Echo to Echo, or to and from the Alexa app for iOS and Android.

“The customer response to Alexa and Echo across the world has been incredibly positive, and we’re excited to make them available to customers in Ireland,” said Jorrit Van Der Meulen, vice-president of Amazon Devices International.

“Customers can just ask Alexa to provide information, play music, make calls, send messages, and use thousands of skills – including locally developed skills from developers including RTÉ, Irish Radioplayer, Ryanair and more.”

Amazon Echo Dot (second generation). Image: Zapp2Photo/Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years