Sales of Amazon’s chatty home assistants, the Echo and Echo Dot, became one of Christmas 2017’s biggest success stories. Seven months on though, are we still using any of the 15,000 skills that Alexa boasts?
Recently published reports suggest that 97% of all skills activated on an Amazon device aren’t used any longer than one day. Having searched through the available skills for my own Echo Dot, it’s perhaps easy to see why this might be: a lot of them are underdeveloped ideas that perhaps rushed too quickly be amongst the first skills available.
There’s also the seemingly low benchmark for getting listed on the official Alexa app. Here’s the description for the ‘Facts About Lee’ skill for example: “Do you know someone called Lee who is shrouded in mystery? […] Well fear not, Alexa knows all about Lee”. Essential indeed.
That’s not to say that the Echo is a mere novelty item however. I’m still using mine daily, but I think it’s worth noting that the room you decide to have it set up in will ultimately decide how much use you get out of it. I have mine in the kitchen, meaning that I get the morning news read to me as I prepare breakfast, and can then set the timer to avoid burning it. Hardly mind-blowing stuff, but something that has seamlessly become part of my morning routine now. A friend set his up in his bedroom instead, instantly turning it into the world’s most advanced alarm clock. Those who struggle with mobility meanwhile, will see its ability to link up with intelligent light switches and plug sockets as a massive boon instead.
Take a look at these five skills that I’ve found I use fairly regularly:
If you’re anything like me (and if so, you have my greatest sympathies), you’ll often find yourself fumbling around for a lost phone whilst you’re trying to rush out the door. TrackR links up to your phone via a pin code to locate your device in just such circumstances. Saying “Alexa, ask TrackR to find my phone”, will cause your mobile to start ringing, even if it’s set to silent mode. This is a god-send for me as silent mode almost always thwarts my usual method of trying to ring it from a landline.
2. Sky News
Though not a skill in itself, Sky News is by far the best option amongst the news outlets that can be set up as part of your flash briefing. Clear, concise, and professional (some others sound like they’ve been recorded in the staff toilet), Sky News gives you just the right amount of news to stay abreast of current affairs.
3. Met Office
Sure, Alexa already offers a weather report if asked, but to be honest, I think she’s just guessing to save face. Enabling the Met Office skill adds an accurate forecast for today and tomorrow to your flash briefing.
4. First Aid by the British Red Cross
Part of me feels comfortable in the knowledge that if I were ever to lose my fingers in a horrific kitchen accident, Alexa could steer me in the right direction without need for painful smartphone swiping with my bloodied stumps.
5. Would You Rather?
It’s not all practicalities in my kitchen though; I enjoy a spot of whimsy as much as the next chap. Questions such as “would you rather have squirrels for hands or guinea pigs for feet?”, give me something to mull over whilst I’m waiting for Alexa’s timer to sound. The app also lets you know if you’re in the majority of other users who have answered the same question, with often surprising results.