Amazon Music Unlimited: Can Alexa give Amazon the edge?

The machine learning-powered Alexa digital assistant built into Amazon's Echo could boost Amazon's ambitions in online music.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director

The Amazon Echo Radio.

Image: Amazon

Amazon has brought its on-demand music service to the UK, with the company hoping its machine learning-powered Alexa service will give it an edge over its more established rivals like Apple Music and Spotify.

Amazon Music Unlimited is Amazon's attempt to break into the music subscription market. The company claims a catalogue of "over 40 million songs" plus thousands of hand-curated playlists.

The service is priced at £7.99 a month or £79 a year for Amazon Prime customers, and £9.99 for non-members.

Amazon's Echo device launched in the UK in September, and is likely to be key to the success of the music service. Listening to music has been one of the most popular uses for the Amazon Echo smart-speaker, but Amazon Prime music only had a database of two million songs. A combination of a much bigger back catalogue and the natural language processing of Amazon's Alexa service could make the service more interesting to music fans.

To drive interest, Amazon is offering Echo owners a £3-a-month subscription, which gives them access to Amazon Music Unlimited on a single Amazon Echo or Echo Dot. To start their trial, owners can simply say "Alexa, start my Amazon Music Unlimited free trial".

"With the advanced machine learning of Alexa, the Amazon Music experience will become more conversational and personalised," the company said.

It's often hard to remember the exact name of a track -- especially as the Echo lacks a display, so you can't scroll through a list of options as you would on a PC or smartphone. But the machine learning embedded in Alexa could help here; Amazon said the service will be able to find a song from some lyrics rather than the name.

For example, if you say "Alexa, play the song that goes, 'I was doing just fine before I met you'," Alexa will play "Closer" by The Chainsmokers, Amazon said. The service should also be able to respond to requests like "Alexa, play Clean Bandit's new song", whereupon Alexa will play the band's latest single "Rockabye".

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