With Alexa Cast, Amazon’s virtual assistant gains limited AirPlay-like functionality

Amazon has launched yet another feature for its ever-growing virtual assistant. With the arrival of Alexa Cast, Amazon has created a foundation to compete with Apple’s AirPlay and Google’s Cast. The new feature allows users to ‘cast’ what they are listening to on their smartphone to nearby Alexa devices. While functionality is quite limited at launch, its capabilities will likely grow over time.

Amazon’s Alexa-enabled devices have been a hit since the virtual assistant was launched in 2014. Alexa was a surprising business venture for the company, but unlike its failed Fire Phone, this project has gotten the mindshare needed for the company to continue adding feature after feature to the platform.

With thousands of skills and counting, Alexa has become a performance benchmark for other tech companies like Apple and Google, although both companies have shown robust improvements in recent testing.

One area that Alexa has lagged behind Apple and Google up to this point has been offering an easy way to send audio and video from a smartphone to its Alexa-equipped devices. Apple TV was the first device to offer a feature like this and Google followed suit by releasing its Chromecast devices years later.

Before you get your hopes up about Alexa Cast, you should be aware that its current offerings are quite limited in comparison to the competition. At launch it only works via the Amazon Music app with no third-party app support.

When asked about third-party app support by The Verge, a spokesperson from Amazon stated, “We’ll continue to improve this feature and expand support over time.”

Although all Prime members get a lite version of Amazon Music that packs about 2 million songs, it’s a far cry from around the 40 million offered by popular third-party apps like Apple Music or Spotify. In order to get a similar experience to third-party apps, you’ll need to subscribe to Amazon’s Music Unlimited service which costs $9.99 or $7.99 depending on if you are an existing Prime member or not.

While Alexa Cast is limited at launch, I really do think we will see third-party apps gain support in the relatively near future given the company’s commitment to the Alexa ecosystem.

With the expansive amount of devices that support Alexa, the number of homes that lack integration with Amazon’s assistant continue to rapidly decrease. You may already have a compatible device and not even know it. If not, you can find options ranging from Polk’s Command sound bar to the Sonos One speaker, giving you plenty of ways to get started with Alexa.

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