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.
This shouldn't scare you away, however. Alexa-enabled devices are great to have in your home and, with a little tweaking, can prove to be very good companions. I’ve hand-picked some of the most useful and unique Alexa skills from the thousands that are out there. Many of these skills will not be enabled by default, so you may need to follow the proper activation steps before using each one for the first time.
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.
One of my favorite features of Amazon’s voice controlled speakers, the Echo and Echo Dot, is the Alexa News Flash skill. Out of the box, it plays you a quick news briefing from standard news sources. What you probably didn’t know however was that you can customize your Alexa Flash Briefing with literally thousands of skills, tailored perfectly to the news you want. Here’s how it all works and how to set it up.
You can create a flash briefing skill if you own, or have the right to distribute, original text or audio content that updates frequently. You should understand web technologies and have the ability to configure HTTPS, RSS and/or JSON content. The voice interactions for a flash briefing skill are defined by Amazon, but you must be able edit the format of your content so that the flash briefing Skill API can understand it.
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.
Flash briefings are great for quickly informing your audience, but a fully interactive Alexa skill or Google Assistant action will allow even more freedom. With a well-designed skill, you can provide personalized service and content to your audience at any time — not just once a day or week. With a voice chatbot analytics tool like we provide as Botanalytics, you can also receive helpful usage data to get to know your audience even better.
You'll notice in the lists below that many Alexa skills are called by using trigger words like open, start, play and ask. While select skills require you to use specific terms, others consider them to be interchangeable and will work with some or all of these phrases. Over time you'll begin launching your favorite skills by the words you feel most comfortable using. Initially, though, it can be fun to play around with each.
Many Alexa Skills are tailored for news and information. Alexa's Flash Briefing, a quick update of top headlines, can be pulled from a preferred media source: Fox News, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, and The Daily Show are just a few options. Users can also check train or bus schedules, check for someplace to eat through Restaurant Finder, check the traffic, or find a select store's hours.
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Some Alexa Skills connect to smart devices, bringing voice control to a smart home from smart lights to locks, smart thermostats to televisions and more. Alexa becomes a home's second in command: users tell Alexa to tell other devices what to do. There are Alexa Skills for almost any kind of smart home device. These Alexa Smart Home articles can get users started immediately, quick start guides for using Alexa: 8 Alexa skills for your professionally installed and monitored security systems, 5 Alexa skills for security you install yourself, but have professionally monitored, and Alexa Skills that help lock down the security of your smart home.