Amazon Echo/Alexa Round up #5: Fire (TV) 1!, hundreds of Skills

Amazon Echo/Alexa Round up #5: Fire (TV) 1!, hundreds of Skills

The Measure Circle’s Amazon Echo/Alexa Round ups are short pieces about the Amazon Echo (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) and Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service which may or may not be expanded later. For more information on the Echo and Alexa, see The Measured Circle’s Echo Central.

Hundreds of Skills

To paraphrase Apple, “There’s a Skill for that.” 😉

There is no question that the success of the iPhone (and by extension, other SmartPhones) hasn’t come just from what Apple has produced itself, but by the apps produced by other people and available for the phone.


Amazon Echo (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

has an equivalent to those apps, called “Alexa Skills” (Alexa is the software, the Echo is the hardware).

These are developed by individuals and organizations (some very big organizations…Disney has one) that you can choose to enable or not by going to your Alexa app and doing

Home – Menu (three horizontal lines) – Skills

While the Apple Appstore has more than a million apps (and Google Play more than that), it’s exciting to see that we can now officially say that there are hundreds of Alexa Skills!

Well, 213 at time of writing, but that is still hundreds. 🙂

Just like with apps, some of the Skills are pretty silly, but there are some practical ones as well…

A practical Alexa Skill:  MyMessages

One of the knocks I’ll see on the Echo/Alexa online is that it is just a toy, that it doesn’t really do anything useful.

You know, like when television was first introduced, or some of us had Commodore PET home computers. 😉

The MyMessages Alexa Skill from Rain Labs is an actual utility (in other words, it’s useful, not just entertaining).

It’s a pretty simple idea.

You speak a message to your Echo (or your Amazon Fire TV ((at AmazonSmile*)) or the Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote ((at AmazonSmile*))…I’ve tested it with the AFTV and the Echo). It can then be played back later by you or by someone else.

This could be convenient: you suddenly have to go somewhere, so as you are tying your shoes, you say, “Alexa, open MyMessages and send message, ‘Had to go to the store'”. Someone else in your family walks in and says, “Alexa, ask MyMessages to play MyMessages,” and hears (in Alexa’s voice), “Had to go to the store”.

Another scenario: you see an episode of a late night talk show on Fire TV that you think someone else in your family would like. using your voice remote, you leave a message to “Check out Carpool Karaoke on the Late Late Show”). They play the messages and get your tip.

One more: “I fed the dogs.” As long as the dogs don’t figure out how to tell the Skill to delete the messages, you are good. 😉

This works…and it means not leaving notes on the refrigerator or a whiteboard. 🙂

Naturally, like most things, it could be improved.

One glitch I’ve found is that my Fire TV seems to often miss most of the message I’ve made. For example, “I’m going to finish watching American Idol over the weekend” became just, “I’m going to finish”.

It tends to explain how you do things…a lot. It would be nice if we could switch it to a “lower coaching” mode once you learn the relatively simple things to say.

It would also be nice if there was some indicator to tell you there was a new message. Since your Echo is always plugged into power, maybe the light ring could flash. I can understand why Amazon might not want Skills messing with the display, though.

The biggest upgrade to me would be to have this appear as a card in the Skill in the Alexa app, or ideally, send a text or an e-mail (although those abilities are undoubtedly coming in other Skills or as features). The card would work because my Significant Other could see my messages in the Alexa app on their phone. Which brings up another practical use we’ve found for the Echo recently…

Using the Shopping List with two or more people

The Shopping List is a feature of Alexa, rather than a Skill.

What’s the difference?

Features come from Amazon, Skills are from third parties.

You don’t have to activate features…everybody has them all the time.

I had been adding things to my Shopping List, but not very much and wasn’t using it very often…I can usually remember what I want to buy.

However, I was frequently texting with my Significant Other what (and how many) we needed of something when one or the other of us was going to the store.

Well, we then installed the Alexa app on my SO’s phone.

That works great!

Either one of us can add something by saying, “Alexa, add carrots to my Shopping List”, and the other one can see it.

It’s also something you can manage pretty well without using Alexa at all…which can be convenient!

Alexa app – Menu – Shopping List

You can enter items directly here, indicate they are done, delete them…and, importantly, recover ones you’ve previously said were completed.

The latter makes it easy to add your regular items.

You can also edit them each time (tap on the item, then tap on the pencil), which lets you change the quantities or indicate when you need it.

This is a very practical use.

Of course, just like with MyMessages, it could be improved. 🙂

I’d like to be able to check off or delete items using Alexa.

It would be a lot easier to have a separate field to indicate quantities.

If we could sort or search the items, that would make it much simpler to find items, especially when we were restoring them.

Oh, and a field to indicate (and group) where you buy it would multiply its usefulness.

This is something that we would use even without Alexa being involved at all…but we’d like it better if we could use Alexa with it from more places…

The expansion of Alexa

Alexa is becoming accessible from more and more places. That’s a good thing, since I now find myself wanting to ask “the air” questions all over the place…at work, in a store, at the dog park… 😉

Fortunately, we’ll soon have more options:

  • Alexa is coming to the first generation Fire TVs and Fire TV Sticks (the latter is also getting Bluetooth access for headphones)
  • Ford is going to integrate Alexa into their in-car SYNC system…which should enable you to open the garage door and turn on the family room lights from the car…or perhaps start the car and get the heater going from your home. Obviously, being able to check the Shopping List would also be cool. No timeline yet
  • There are rumors of an “Echo, Jr.” or something like that which would be able to be battery operated. That would give us more home use flexibility

Spotify Premium coming to Alexa

In this

press release

Amazon announced that Alexa is going to work with Spotify Premium. This is yet another example of a major brand adopting Alexa…it is becoming part of the mainstream.

There are now three Alexa wake words

Alexa only starts paying attention to what you are saying when you address it (although some people suspect otherwise…).

Since the beginning, you’ve been able to address it as “Alexa” or “Amazon”, but they recently added the ability to call it, “Echo”.

I don’t think what they chose as the third word matters so much as the fact that there are three. For people with multiple Echos in their home, its easy for them to get confused. If you give each one a separate wake word, that really ameliorates that issue.

You can choose your wake word in the app

Home – Menu – Settings – Tap your device name

Alexa goes to the movies

This feature is something we are already using quite a bit.

You can ask Alexa what movies are playing, or what time a particular movie is playing.

You can also be more general: “Alexa, what science fiction movies are playing?”

One nice piece of this is that a “card” with the answer will show up in your app.

At this point, it can’t search by an actor or director, but I’m sure that will come.

This is powered by IMDb, the most useful movie/TV website in my opinion…which is owned by Amazon.

There will be many more features in the future…

This is the dawning of the age of Alexa. 😉

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* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

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