The age of digital assistants is already here, and with them, we have easy-to-use disembodied voices that attempt to answer our every beck and call. However, sometimes those answers aren't exactly <things you'd want a child to hear, so Amazon went and created a version of Alexa specifically meant for kids.
Starting at $US80 (local pricing and availability to be confirmed), the new Echo Dot Kids Edition is, at a hardware level, basically just a standard Dot that comes with a durable, coloured sleeve (available in red, green, and blue). It's also bundled with a one-year subscription to Amazon FreeTime Unlimited and a two-year "worry free" guarantee, so if your Dot for kids breaks, Amazon will replace it for free.
FreeTime Unlimited's main benefit is a collection of child-friendly content that includes kid-focused skills, over 300 Audible books, and a number of ad-free radio stations and playlists from Radio Disney, iHeartRadio Family and others. There's also a new Parent Dashboard app that can be used to limit what kids can do with the device, restrict how long or at what times they can use Alexa, prevent the Echo from playing music with explicit lyrics, and more.
But perhaps the biggest change is that Amazon's digital assistant has a new way of interacting with children thanks to new kid-friendly programming for Alexa. According to Buzzfeed, some of these new features include some kind of reward every time kids say "please," and more forgiving voice recognition that allows kids to say "Awexa" instead of Alexa.
Amazon even changed the responses to certain questions so that when asked where babies come from, Alexa will reply ""People make people, but how they're made would be a better question for a grown-up." Or if a kid is having problems at school and asks Alexa "Why are kids mean to me?" Alexa will respond by saying "People bully, or are mean, for many different reasons. Bullying feels bad and is never ok. If you or someone else is being bullied, please know that there are lots of folks who can help you. You should talk with your parents, a teacher, or another trusted grown-up about it."
Having Alexa defer to parents is a small but important change, as it shows that Amazon recognises that a digital assistant shouldn't be the one giving advice to kids, while also encouraging children to talk about the issue with their parents.
For people who already have a spare Echo lying around, the good news is that you don't need to buy a whole new device to have access to Alexa's kid-centric programming. Starting May 9, parents can get FreeTime on Alexa for free, which includes the new parental dashboard and kid-centric responses, or pay $US3 a month for FreeTime Unlimited to access the whole collection of kid-friendly Alexa content.