Alexa Skills

Alexa Skills

“Alexa Skills” are essentially third-party apps for Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service (AVS), which was first available on the

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

A few general points before I start listing them:

  • For more information on building Alexa Skills, see https://developer.amazon.com/public
  • According to Amazon, there is no limit to the number of Alexa Skills you can enable on your device…it isn’t limited by your local device’s memory
  • To enable (or disable) a Skill go to Home – Menu (three horizontal lines) – Skills
  • If you get stuck while you are using a Skill (that has happened to me), saying, “Alexa, exit” should get you out of it
  • Alexa Skills, and their ability to respond to you, may change at any time
  • I’m going to list them alphabetically (which is how they appear in the app)

BART Times
Introduced approximately September 11, 2015
From Gobby Apps (http://gobbyapps.com)
Summary: Provides upcoming times for BART (San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit)
My take: I do live in this area, but at this point, this is pretty limited. It only allows you to set a home and a destination station (one of each). You can adjust those at any time verbally, though. Communications include:

NOTE: You can do a compound communication: “Alexa, open BART Times and…[one of the below]

* When is my next train?
* Are there any advisories?
* Are the elevators okay?
* Set my home station to [station name]
* Set my destination station to [station name]
* When are my next three trains?

App ability? Your time(s) will appear in the app, along with statuses Alexa gave you

Bingo
Introduced approximately August 21, 2015
From LME Skills (http://lovemyecho.com)
Summary:Calls the Bingo game
My take: This does a nice job with calling Bingo for you. You can print free Bingo cards from the LME site above. I did test it by calling Bingo before I could possibly have gotten one, and it gently corrected me. You can also say, “Help”: that’s a great feature! This does very much what you would like it to do, with good interactions and smooth error handling.
Communications include:

NOTE: You can do a compound communication: “Alexa, open Bingo and…[one of the below]

* Start
* Next (number)
* Help
* Bingo!
* End game

App ability? The called numbers appear in your app.

Cat Facts
Introduced approximately August 21, 2015
From deegles.co
Summary: Tells you a cat fact
My take: It was a fun fact…and I liked that Alexa said, “Meow” at the end😉 You can even say, “Tell Cat Facts to say meow.” This is very simple, like a page-a-day calendar. There are “almost one hundred” facts available, and I have not had it repeat.

App ability: the cat facts appear in your app after having been spoken

Craft Helper
Introduced approximately September 11, 2015
From Mike Solomon
Summary: this is a Minecraft play aid.

Crystal Ball
Introduced approximately August 14, 2015
From LME Skills (http://lovemyecho.com)
Summary:
My take on it: this is like the Magic Eight Ball. You launch it by saying, “Alexa, launch Crystal Ball”. Then it asks you to concentrate on a yes/no question, and to say, “Ready” when you want its response. It then gives you an answer like, “Without a doubt.” Should be fun for kids

Famous Quotes
Introduced approximately September 25, 2015
From Mark Goodrich
Summary: Gives you a quotation, like “Say hello to my little friend”, and gives you the source. As it’s description says, it is simple. I would describe it as quietly amusing.

Fantasy Football
Introduced approximately September 25, 2015
From TayTech LLC
Summary: Hits the Fantasy Football Nerd website for information. For people who play fantasy football, it should be useful.

  • Ask Fantasy Football Nerf for headlines
  • Ask Fantasy Football Nerd for updates on [player’s name]
  • Ask Fantasy Football Nerd for the latest news

Focus Word
Introduced approximately September 25, 2015
From LME Skills
Summary: sort of a mental prompt of the day, giving you a word and some recommendations

Guess The Number
Introduced approximately September 11, 2015
From Matt Kruse
Summary: Alexa picks a number between 1 and 100. You guess, and Alexa tells you whether to guess higher or lower. See also the more sophisticated High Low Guessing Game below.

High Low Guessing Game
by JWP Software
Introduced approximately
Summary: Either you or Alexa (your choice) picks a number between 1 and 100. The other one of you guesses, and the picker says whether it is higher or lower. Similar to Guess the Number above, but it also gives you the option to have Alexa be the guesser.

Math Puzzles
From Speech-Ninja
Introduced approximately August 14, 2015
My take on it: “Alexa, open math puzzles”. It gives you a sequence of numbers, and you guess the next number. The first one was hard…I knew the pattern, figuring out what the right answer was was difficult! The second one I did was easier. Note: I got caught in kind of a loop at one point: saying, “Alexa, stop” got me out of it.

Scout Alarm
Introduced approximately September 4, 2015
From Scout Security Inc.
Summary: control your Scout security system

StubHub
Introduced approximately August 14, 2015
From StubHub
Summary:
My take on it: “Alexa, ask StubHub what’s happening in…” There are a lot of options here. It will ask you to set your home city. Note: I set one home city, and then wanted to change it. I said, “Alexa, ask StubHub to set my home city,” and it let me change it. I thought I’d be able to set it in the app, but I didn’t see an option. You can also get information for many large cities. Note that although StubHub is a ticket buying service, it just listed the events for me…I wasn’t using it to buy tickets

Tide Pooler
Introduced approximately August 21, 2015
From Amazon
Summary:

Trivia Alex
From FatmaN Development

Trove
From Trove

Word Master
Introduced approximately September 25, 2015
From Saket Agarwal
Summary: this one is a fun idea…a genuine game you can play with Alexa. It’s a game I’ve played for years with literate kids, and its similar to something people do in improv. One person says a word. The next person says a word that starts with the last letter of the first person’s word. You get points for each letter in your word. I mentioned playing it with kids: I’d say that’s about right for this version. It didn’t know several words I tried to use. It didn’t play at all defensively: it commonly used plurals, which gets it one more letter for the “s”…but that’s an easy word for your opponent. It was well programmed enough to not repeat words in my session.

Here is a round up of some of the newer ones:

  • Angry Bard…this skill, from April Hamilton, is one of a number of quotation skills. Hamilton does step things up a notch from most skills published, with good error handling and more interesting prompts. In this case, you can “Ask Angry Bard for a burn”, and you get an insult from Shakespeare (with a citation of the play)
  • Animal Game from Alex Rublinesky: think of an animal, and Alexa asks you questions (like twenty questions). It’s a fun concept, but she was terrible at guessing…she didn’t get an ostrich, or even a lion. Out of five attempts, the only one she got right was an elephant, and I picked that one because she had incorrectly guessed elephant for something else
  • Ask My Buddy from Beach Dev: people want the Echo to send a text, and this skill sort of does. You don’t compose the text, though, from what I can tell. You put in contacts, and if you have an emergency, you can ask Alexa to alert them…by e-mail, text, and even phone
  • Beat the Dealer by Vurble: it’s a blackjack game, and it played reasonably well
  • Bible by YouVersion
  • Daily Word by Matchbox mobile: a word of the day…not bad
  • DC Metro: transit times…this goes along with the BART app for the San Francisco Bay Area
  • Eliza by Asimov: it’s a chatbot which is supposed to be a psychotherapy session. This was frustrating because it initially said her sister Eliza was out, and she would do it…that was confusing. However, it did appear to have some understanding of what I was saying. When I answered, “No” to something, it said I was being negative. With a little tweaking, this could be interesting
  • Knock Knock Jokes by Tsa  Tsa Tzu: this just didn’t work much of the time. It would say, “Knock, knock”. I would say, “Who’s there?” It would respond with a name: one was Hollis. I said, “Hollis who?” and it just said good-bye. That happened multiple times with different names. It did work once, though
  • Techcrunch News by AOL Inc.
  • Translator for Alexa by Philosophical Creations: this seemed to work for common words
  • Trivia Talk by Zerovoid Software: decent trivia game, with reasonably difficult questions…not so much pop culture
  • Word Master by SAKET AGARWAL: this one was fun. You take turns saying a word. Your word has to start with the last letter of the other person’s word. It wasn’t hard for me to beat it, and it didn’t know some words it should, but it would be good for kids
  • * Age calculator by Mike Christanson: you give it a birthdate, it tells you the age. I find that one to be odd: I think it would be rare I would know someone’s birthdate (even an historical figure) and not know their age. It only gave me the age approximately (according to what it said)…and it also gave it in a number of months, in addition to years
    * Ask Daddy and Ask Grandmom by Rick Wargo: again, a bit strange. You ask Alexa to ask Daddy (or Grandmom…I think of “Grandma” as more common, but that’s okay), and it tells you why they deny your request. At least, that’s what it did in my testing
    * Beat the Dealer by Vurble: play Blackjack. This worked, and could be fun
    * Daily Word by Matchbox mobile: I liked this one…like a page-a-day vocabulary calendar
    * Demotivate me by TsaTsaTzu: make demoralizing statements to you
    * Movie Quotes Trivia Game by Michael E. Strupp: it was conversationally good. I found the quotations rather difficult, but that’s subjective
    * News by Linkboard by Linkboard: this adds more news capability than we have now. It was a bit awkward to use (it didn’t always understand what I wanted), but I did get good information when I navigated the verbal menus
    * Quick Events by Philosophical Creations: this one lets you verbally add events to your Google calendar
    * Stock Exchange by Gobby Apps: this will give you stock quotes, and seemed to work pretty well. I wasn’t able to edit my portfolio when it added the wrong stock, from what I could tell. I had to delete it, then create it again. I caught that pretty early on, though, so that wasn’t a big issue. You do need to know the stock symbol and on which exchange it is traded. The only funny thing was that I didn’t seem to be able to add AMZN (for Amazon) without getting a quote first. When I asked it to add that, it always (and I was careful in saying it), omitted the initial A, resulting in not finding it
    * TV Shows by Gobby Apps: you give it a TV show, it tells you when the next episode is on and on which channel. This one worked, and I like the idea of it

Two new Skills caught my eye…and one brings an important capability.

AOL gives you news headlines in different categories (Entertainment, Sports…). It works, but at this point, it doesn’t stand out significantly for me as different or better than other news. Still, it’s another major brand with a Skill.

Sassy Persona is a snarkarator: if you ask it for the weather, it may ask you to look outside. However, the interesting new thing here is that you can ask it to “stick around”. It will then stay in Sassy mode (and the light ring will stay on) for several inquiries. This is what I’ve called “conversation mode”…you don’t even need to use the wake word for subsequent inquiries. It exited on its own, or I could exit.

I think that last one has a lot of potential for the future…

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