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Amazon lets you access Alexa on the web

A screenshot of Echosim.io, a web-browser simulator of Amazon’s Echo speaker and its Alexa digital assistant.

Amazon has released a web-based version of Alexa, the voice-activated digital assistant that powers its Echo speaker.

Called Echosim.io, the service simulates having an Echo — to a degree. At the user’s prompting, Alexa on the Echo can access Amazon Prime or Spotify music, call an Uber, check Google calendar, or listen to an Audible book.

With Alexa on the web, a user presses the microphone button near a photo of an Echo. In the animation, the Echo’s rim starts to pulse blue at the user’s prompt.

The web-based simulator is far more limited than Alexa in Echo or Amazon’s smaller speakers, Dot and Tap. A simple Alexa request such as “Alexa, play jazz” was met with “Amazon music is not supported on this device.”

The simulator isn’t aimed at the households that might be considering purchasing the $179.99 device, however.

Instead, the site is aimed at web developers, particularly outside the U.S. Amazon hopes developers will create a variety of Alexa “skills,” the equivalent of apps for Apple or Android phones that will multiply reasons to use the device and its assistant.

“Carve your own little corner in [Internet of Things] with a speaker and mic, a microcomputer, and the self-service tools at developer.amazon.com,” exhorts Amazon’s Glenn Cameron in a blog to developers.

The Echo has been a surprise hit since its launch a year ago, increasing the pressure on other tech companies to extend their artificial intelligence-powered digital assistants — until now largely accessed through smartphones — to standalone speakers, too.

Google recently unveiled its Google Home speaker, while Apple is reported to be working on a stand-alone device powered by Siri, the digital assistant best known for answering questions on iPhones. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has said the online retailer can’t keep Echo in stock.

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