Because Amazon opened up the development of Alexa Skills to anyone with the free Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) in 2015, anyone can create an Alexa Skill. As Alexa uses Natural Language Programing (NLP), those looking to build a skill don't need to worry about complex speech recognition. The ASK tools also makes it easier for novices to work with sophisticated NLP ideas.
How does Alexa work? Once you buy an Amazon Alexa device — Amazon Tap or an Echo Dot — the device connects through WiFi or Bluetooth to the internet and then to other devices. With the most common devices, the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot, people merely say "Alexa," which wakes up the device, and then ask for what they want. Alexa Skills radically expands the bots repertoire, allowing users to perform more actions with voice-activated control through Alexa.
Starbucks lets you place an order using Alexa with the Starbucks Reorder skill. After you enable the skill, you will need to link your account. The skill will not work unless you've previously placed a mobile order with the Starbucks app on Android or iOS. It can place an order at one of the last 10 Starbucks locations you've visited in person. You can also check your account balance and switch between your five previous mobile orders.
Amazon's Alexa is the voice-activated, interactive AI bot, or personal assistant, that lets people speak with their Amazon Echo, Echo Dot and other Amazon smart home devices. Like Siri and Cortana, Alexa is designed to respond to a number of different commands and even converse with users. Alexa comes with more than a few capabilities: playing music, pulling up the weather or even reading news. But Alexa Skills are apps that give Alexa even more abilities, letting her speak to more devices even websites.
In the Alexa app, this is achieved by selecting the main menu button (found in the upper left-hand corner of the screen) and choosing the Skills option. From here you can browse Alexa skills by category or other criteria such as those favored the most by its large user base. You can also search for skills by keyword or name through this same interface.
The Capital One skill allows you to check your credit card balance or make a payment when one is due. This is secure: The skill performs security checks and requires you sign in using your username and password. Then, when you open the skill, you must provide a four-digit code to confirm your identity. Just be wary of who is around when using the skill -- anyone who overhears you say your personal key can access your banking or credit card info just by asking Alexa.
As of this writing, Amazon has thousands of sources for flash briefings. The sources they include can be hyper-local like your local news station. Amazon also has specific topics like tech or business, or general info. Many of these sources, like NPR, are podcasts provided by Tune-In. These briefings are audio files Alexa plays for you. Other sources like the AP news stories are read in Alexa’s voice. I wish Amazon told you which ones were audio files because her voice drones on after a while. I hope I get to change her voice like I can with Siri. Right now, you can just change the language to the English (UK) or German.
For tracking your food, you can use the Track by Nutritionix skill, which lets you record your food intake using your voice, or ask for caloric values of foods. (Alexa does the latter by default.) Say things like, "Alexa, tell Food Tracker to log a cup of almond milk" or "Alexa, ask Food Tracker how many calories are in two eggs and three slices of bacon."