You can now ask Alexa to control your Roku devices

Roku this morning announced its devices will now be compatible with Amazon’s Alexa. Through a new Roku skill for Alexa, Roku owners will be able to control their devices in order to do things like launch a channel, play or pause a show, search for entertainment options and more. Roku TV owners will additionally be able to control various functions related to their television, like adjusting the volume, turning on and off the TV, switching inputs and changing channels if there is an over-the-air antenna attached.

The added support for Amazon Alexa will be available to devices running Roku OS 8.1 or higher, and will require that customers enable the new Roku skill, which will link their account to Amazon.

Roku has developed its own voice assistant designed specifically for its platform, which is available with a touch of a button on its voice remote as well as through optional accessories like its voice-powered wireless speakers, tabletop Roku Touch remote or TCL’s Roku-branded Smart Soundbar. However, it hasn’t ignored the needs of those who have invested in other voice platforms.

Already, Roku devices work with Google Assistant-powered devices, like Google Home and Google Home Mini, through a similar voice app launched last fall.

Support for the dominant streaming media platform — Amazon Alexa — was bound to be next. EMarketer said Amazon took two-thirds of smart speaker sales last year, and CIRP said Echo has a 70 percent U.S. market share.

The Roku app will work with any Alexa-enabled device, including the Amazon Echo, Echo Show, Echo Dot, Echo Spot and Echo Plus, as well as those powered by Alexa from third parties, the company confirmed to TechCrunch.

Once enabled, you’ll be able to say things like “Alexa, pause Roku,” or “Alexa, open Hulu on Roku,” or “Alexa, find comedies on Roku,” and more. The key will be starting the command with “Alexa,” as usual, then specify “Roku” is where the action should take place (e.g. “on Roku”).

One change with the launch of voice support via Alexa is that the commands are a bit more natural, in some cases. Whereas Google Assistant required users to say “Hey Google, pause on Roku,” the company today says the same command for Alexa users is “Alexa, pause Roku.” That’s a lot easier to remember and say. However, most of the other commands are fairly consistent between the two platforms.

“Consumers often have multiple voice ecosystems in their homes,” said Ilya Asnis, senior vice president of Roku OS at Roku, in a statement about the launch. “By allowing our customers to choose Alexa, in addition to Roku voice search and controls, and other popular voice assistants, we are strengthening the value Roku offers as a neutral platform in home entertainment.”

Quip launches toothbrush for kids

Quip, the dental care startup, is releasing a new product aimed toward kids. Similar to the electric toothbrush it makes for adults, the kids’ brush features a timer that pulsates every 30 seconds and automatically turns off after two minutes.

The main differences between the brush for kids and one for adults is the non-slip grip plastic handle, smaller brush head and new colors. Quip for kids costs $25 for a brush head starter set with a flavored toothpaste subscription ($10 every three months) or $30 with a starter set and brush head subscription ($5 every three months).

“If we’re going to fulfill our mission of improving oral health for every age, it’s better to cast those habits and form those habits at an early age,” Quip CEO Simon Enever told TechCrunch. “And build right habits before you’re nine years old.”

Quip began as a subscription-based electric toothbrush service that replaces toothpaste and brush heads, partly because you’re apparently supposed to change your toothbrush every three months. Since its launch, Quip has steadily evolved its offerings by inviting dentists to join the platform to connect with Quip’s consumer subscribers.

“The features dentists were asking for was the same Quip for kids,” Enever said. “Knowing that the timer and pulses would guide basic habits, the biggest thing dentists wanted was getting kids to want to brush their teeth. That would be the win.”

Last May, Quip raised $10 million and acquired dental insurance startup Afora to live inside Quip Labs, the startup’s venture studio. The idea with Labs is to fuel innovation in oral health products, platforms and services. This brush for kids, however, is Quip’s first new product since launch.

That’s thanks to Quip’s $40 million funding round back in November. At the time, Enever told me Quip had a lot of new products and services launches ahead of it. To date, Quip has raised more than $60 million in funding.

Salesforce releases myTrailhead, a customizable training platform

Salesforce has been using the notion of trailblazers as a learning metaphor for several years, ever since it created Trailhead, a platform to teach customers Salesforce skills. Today, the company announced the availability of myTrailhead, a similar platform that enables a company to create branded, fully customizable training materials based on the Trailhead approach.

It’s worth noting that the company originally announced this idea at Dreamforce in November, 2017, and after testing it on 13 pilot customers (including itself) for the last year is making the product generally available today.

While Trailhead is all about teaching Salesforce skills, myTrailhead is about building on that approach to teach whatever other skills a company might find desirable with its own culture, style, branding and methodologies.

It builds on the whole Trailhead theme of blazing a learning trail, providing a gamified approach to self-paced training, where users are quizzed throughout to reinforce the lessons, awarded badges for successfully completing modules and given titles like Ranger for successfully completing a certain number of courses.

By gamifying the approach, Salesforce hopes people will have friendly competition within companies, but it also sees these skills as adding value to an employee’s resume. If a manager is looking for an in-house hire, they can search by skills in myTrailhead and find candidates who match their requirements. Additionally, employees who participate in training can potentially advance their careers with the their enhanced skill sets.

While you can continue to teach Salesforce skills in myTrailhead, it’s really focused on the customization and what companies can add on top of the Salesforce materials to make the platform their own. Salesforce envisions companies using the platform for new employee onboarding, sales enablement or customer service training, but if a company is ambitious, it could use this as a broader training tool.

There is an analytics component in myTrailhead, so management can track when employees complete required training modules, understand how well they are doing as they move through a learning track or recognize when employees have updated their skill sets.

The idea is to build on the Trailhead platform concept to provide companies with a methodology for creating a digital approach to learning, which Salesforce sees as an essential ingredient of becoming a modern company. The product is available immediately.