As of April 2019, Amazon had over 90,000 functions ("skills") available for users to download on their Alexa-enabled devices, a massive increase from only 1,000 functions in June 2016. Microsoft's AI Cortana became available to use on Alexa enabled devices as of August 2018. In 2018, Amazon rolled out a new "Brief Mode," wherein Alexa would begin responding with a beep sound rather than saying, "Okay," to confirm receipt of a command. On December 20, 2018, Amazon announced a new integration with the Wolfram Alpha answer engine, which provides enhanced accuracy for users asking questions of Alexa related to math, science, astronomy, engineering, geography, history, and more.
Most devices with Alexa allow users to activate the device using a wake-word (such as Alexa); other devices (such as the Amazon mobile app on iOS or Android and Amazon Dash Wand) require the user to push a button to activate Alexa's listening mode. Currently, interaction and communication with Alexa are available only in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, and Hindi. In Canada, Alexa is available in English and in French (with the Québec accent).
Both devices work with a variety of smart home lights, thermostats, plugs, and more, but Amazon’s Echo definitely works with a greater range of brands and products. The key difference is that with Apple’s HomePod, the compatible devices need to be HomeKit-enabled, where Echo-compatible smart home products don’t (necessarily). If you’ve already got some connected home products installed, you can check and see which platform it’s compatible with.
If you have a handful of Alexa-capable smart home products, you can now set up commands known as routines. Routines let Alexa perform multiple actions with a single voice command. For example, you could say “Alexa, start my day” for her to start playing your daily Flash Briefing, give you an update on the weather, and turn on the lights in the living room.
There are a number of ways messages can be sent from Alexa's application. Alexa can deliver messages to a recipient's Alexa application, as well as to all supported Echo devices associated with their Amazon account. Alexa can send typed messages only from Alexa's app. If one sends a message from an associated Echo device, it transmits as a voice message. Alexa cannot send attachments such as videos and photos.