Echo’s messaging service may add support for SMS texts from your own ‘Alexa number’

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Amazon appears to be planning an expansion of Alexa’s existing messaging capabilities to support sending SMS text messages to friends using your Echo device or Alexa app. That means Echo users could then text anyone using voice commands, not only other Echo owners.

According to code found in the Amazon Alexa app, there are references to a new type of phone number – referred to as your “Alexa number” – which is listed alongside other contact information, like a home phone number, work phone, and mobile. Additionally, references in the code specifically state that users will be able to “send and receive SMS text messages” from their Echo device or the Alexa app.

News of SMS messaging was first spotted by the site Voicebot.ai, citing an unnamed source.

In a screenshot of code they’ve now added to their original report from last week, you can see lines that reference this so-called “Alexa number,” and further details about how this feature works.

Image credit: Voicebot.ai

For example, the code includes references like “My Alexa number is:” and “When you send messages, your contacts will receive them from this number.” 

It also says “Send and receive SMS text messages using Echo, Echo Dot, Amazon Tap, and the Alexa app,” and offers an example of how to use the feature.

It says you can use voice commands like “Alexa, message Jane” and another to check the messages you’ve received. (These commands work today, but don’t extend to SMS.)

Assuming this is something in active development, rather than placeholder code of some kind, this new feature would go beyond the existing Alexa calling and messaging options that launched in May.

Currently, Echo owners can place free voice calls and send text messages using a supported Echo device or the Alexa companion app on their smartphone. However, this feature is limited because the only people you can call or text are those who also have the Alexa app and an Echo, Echo Dot, or Echo Show.

Today, for instance, you can tell Alexa to “message Jane,” but Jane won’t get an SMS text from you, in that case. She has to read it in her Alexa app, or ask Echo to check her messages. If the code above actually does what it promises, then that would change when this feature goes live. Jane would then get a SMS text sent from your “Alexa number.”

At present, the existing messaging feature requires you upload your phone contacts to your Alexa app to get started. This led to some privacy issues at launch – users could message you, call or send voice messages to you as long as they had your phone number and the Alexa app installed.

Amazon, in a response to backlash about this problem, rolled out a contact blocking setting shortly after the feature debuted.

Above: Amazon’s website detailing the feature as it works today

An “Alexa number” could come into play here as another means of protecting user privacy.

You could give out your “Alexa number” to those you want to be able text or call you through Echo and the Alexa platform, when you don’t feel comfortable enough to give them your “real” phone number.

Then you could use Alexa voice commands to send actual SMS texts to those recipients, or you could type your texts in the Alexa app.

This is a similar value proposition offered by competing voice services, like Google Voice or Skype, for example, as well as apps that offer you temporary and virtual phone numbers, like Burner.

Beyond the screenshot from Voicebot’s report above, there are other references to this “Alexa number” that can be found in the Alexa Android app (the APK file)’s code.

Above and below: code showing an “Alexa” phone number type

Here, you’ll see this “Alexa number” is listed as one of the phone number types a user can have on file in addition to others, like a home phone, work phone, mobile, and “other” – all standard contact fields. The Alexa number field in this APK contains an actual phone number with an area code, which hints that Amazon may assign a virtual number to Echo owners.

Amazon already has a solution to do this, Voicebot had pointed out – AWS’ Simple Notification Service (SNS) is often used by businesses who want to send broadcast SMS messages to their customers, among other things.

Another interesting tidbit is that a reference in the code (see the first image) also says that “Messaging is available for free for a limited time.”  

That could mean that being able to send SMS texts is something Amazon is considering rolling out as a paid upgrade. That would be notable, if true, as Amazon isn’t really monetizing Echo right now beyond the cost of selling the hardware itself, and from those consumers who use its voice shopping features.

Of course, finding code references doesn’t always mean that a feature is in active development or on the near-term roadmap. But there’s quite a lot of code here to dismiss this as being placeholder text, written “just in case” Amazon’s decides to go that route.

In addition, it seems clear that Amazon is highly interested in the potential for Echo to become a communication device. It launched the Echo Show, which has a disruptive new way to stay in touch called “Drop In,” where you literally just pop up on a friend or family member’s video screen.

Plus, the Alexa app today defaults to the “Conversations” screen, instead of the app’s actual “Home” screen – something meant to encourage adoption of the messaging service.

Reached for comment about Alexa’s planned SMS texting feature, an Amazon spokesperson only said “per company policy, we don’t comment on rumors or speculation.”

Know more? Email me Sarah Perez at sarahp@techcrunch.com

Featured Image: Joby Sessions/T3 Magazine via Getty Images

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Philippe Coutinho: Liverpool midfielder remains Barcelona’s number one target

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Coutinho joined Liverpool from Inter Milan for £8.5m in 2013

Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho remains Barcelona’s number one target but the Spanish club are also weighing up a move for Monaco’s Thomas Lemar.

The Spanish giants have had three bids for 25-year-old Coutinho turned down, the latest in the region of £114m.

Lemar, 21, is also a target for the Reds, who are preparing a £60m bid for the French midfielder.

Barcelona are also interested in Juventus forward Paulo Dybala, 23, who helped Juve win Serie A last season.

The English transfer window shuts at 23:00 BST on Thursday, 31 August with the Spanish deadline for buying players 24 hours later.

Barcelona had their potent forward partnership of Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi broken up earlier this month when Paris St-Germain lured Neymar away after paying the 222m euros release clause.

The La Liga giants completed the signing of forward Ousmane Dembele from Borussia Dortmund for £135.5m last week, but are hoping to bring in “one or two” more players before the window shuts.

Barcelona technical director Robert Fernandez said at the weekend: “I won’t go into names but I admit that the club is working on the possibility of signing new players.”

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DVLA bans over 300 potentially offensive number plates

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Registration numbers withheld by the DVLA

Image caption

Do these “suppressed” vehicle registration marks cause “upset or offence”?

More than 300 number plates have been banned from use when the 67 vehicle registrations are released next week.

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) has withheld them because they are deemed potentially offensive.

Among those are MU67 DER, BU67 GER, DO67 GER, BA67 ARD, MU67 GER, HU67 WLY and OR67 SAM. Other “words” like AF67 HAN and NE67 ECT also make the list.

A DVLA spokesman said it had a responsibility to ensure plates do not “cause upset or offence”.

In June, the Swansea-based agency admitted that a plate JH11 HAD “slipped through the net“.

Cracking the code?

  • To certain eyes, or on some deliberately-designed plates, a 6 can look like a “G” or an “S”
  • A 7 can be read as a “T” or even an “L”
  • And when put together, the number 67 can be read by some as an “R” – but only if you look really, really hard

Words which look as if they spell the word jihad among the new plates have also been banned, information supplied under the Freedom of Information Act to BBC Wales has shown.

Also on the list are a range of plates that start with the word NO and end with another complete three-letter word (and the 67 is irrelevant), including NO67 DAD, NO67 FUN, NO67 MUM and NO67 SON.

The spokesman said: “The agency applies a clear policy of withholding potentially offensive registration numbers equally to normal issue series and those made available to purchase from our sales team.

“Such numbers are withheld if they are likely to cause offence or embarrassment to the general population in this country on the grounds of political, racial and religious sensitivities or simply because they are in poor taste when displayed correctly on a number plate.”

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A Number Of Kyrie Irving’s Cavs Teammates Hoped He Wouldn’t Get Traded

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Getty Image

In the immediate aftermath of the blockbuster trade that sent Kyrie Irving to Boston in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, all sorts of rumors and accusations have come to the surface regarding both players. For instance, Chris Broussard, citing anonymous sources, tried to claim on Wednesday that Thomas wasn’t as well liked among his teammates as you might have thought.

On the other end of the trade, despite previous rumors that Irving had given his teammates the silent treatment during the playoffs this spring, a new report now claims that many in the Cavs locker room were holding out hope that he might hash things out with LeBron and stay in Cleveland after all, as Dave McMenamin of ESPN reports there were some on the Cavs wishing for one more run with the same crew.

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Brand New’s ‘Science Fiction’ To Become Their First Number One Album

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Brand New

After making their fans wait eight full years to get their hands on a new album, Brand New returned with a bang. Their latest offering Science Fiction got something of a messy, perplexing rollout, but that has done little to stop it from ending the week at the top of the charts and netting the group their first ever number one album.

According to Billboard, Science Fiction is projected to end the week with something around 55,000 copies sold. Not quite the blockbuster week we got last month that saw Tyler The Creator, Lana Del Rey and Meek Mill all selling over six-figures, but hey, that’s the name of the game. We’re officially in the dog days of Summer and Kendrick Lamar re-took his spot on top of the charts last week with just about the same number of copies of his most recent album DAMN sold.

What makes Brand New’s feat actually quite extraordinary is the way the album came out in the first place. Copies of the physical release made it out into the hands of fans last week, and rather than allowing the entire thing to leak out onto the Internet, Brand New decided to just put it out for sale there and then. Science Fiction wasn’t even available on streaming services until this weekend.

Kudos to Brand New. Glad to have you back.

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