Amazon Alexa, what can it do and what can’t it do?

Alexa is Amazon’s Voice Service, accessed through Amazon Echo. Alexa skills are like apps, you can enable and disable skills. Just the same way you install apps on your smartphone.

Skills are voice-driven Alexa capabilities. You can add Alexa skills to your Echo to bring products and services to life. You can view available skills and enable or disable them using your Alexa app.
It’s easy adding skills onto your Alexa device. All you need is the Alexa App (and of course an Alexa.)

Alexa for Business gives you access to all Alexa skills. To enable skills for your devices, you must first enable it for your organisation and then add it to one or more skill groups that are assigned to your rooms.

Manage your skills on Alexa

  • Open the Alexa for Business console at https://console.aws.amazon.com/a4b/
  • Choose Skills, Alexa Skills store.
  • Find the skill to add by browsing the list of available skills, filtering by category, or searching by keyword. You can get more details about the skill and how to add it in the skill details.
  • Choose Enable skill.
  • If the skill requires it, link your master account by following the account linking steps. When you are done, you receive a success message in the console.
  • If the skill supports it, optionally enable permissions by choosing Allow next to each permission and choose Save. 
  • Choose Enabled skills, select the check box next to the skill that you just added, and choose to Add to a skill group.
  • Select the check box next to the skill group to which to add the skill, and choose Add.
  • Custom Alexa skills development

Alexa skills are essentially apps, which enable Amazon’s voice assistant to connect to hardware and software to perform certain tasks.

What skills can Alexa develop?

Alexa comes with a selection of built-in capabilities, which are referred to as skills.

The Alexa Skills Kit allows you to teach Alexa new skills. Customers can access these new abilities by asking their Alexa questions or making requests. An example of some skills are;

Tip – Try looking up answers to specific questions

Challenge the user with puzzles or games (“Alexa, play Jeopardy.”)

Control lights and other devices in the home (“Alexa, turn on the living room lights.”)

Provide audio or text content for a customer’s flash briefing (“Alexa, give me my flash briefing”)

Some custom Alexa skills you can develop are –

Ask requests. For example – Look up things on the web, integrate a web service so that you can order something like a pizza

Use skills that can control your smart home devices. For example – Turn the lights off, change the temperature on a thermostat or change the channel on the TV

Music skill. For example – Stream music and playlists through your Alexa, you can control the next song or volume by your voice

What do you need to build a custom skill?

Accessible internet .

Amazon Web Services account in addition to your Amazon developer account.

A development environment appropriate for the programming language you plan to use. You can author a web service in any language appropriate for web services.

If you have no such files other than for a skill icon, you do not need to host any resources. One possible solution is to use an Amazon Simple Storage Service.

You will need a device with Alexa for testing. Skills work with all devices with Alexa, such as the Amazon Echo, Amazon Echo Dot, Amazon Tap, Fire TV, and devices that use the Alexa Voice Service.

If you don’t have a device, you can use a simulator on the Test page for testing. You can also see what the display templates for Echo Show and Echo Spot look like so that you can try before you buy.

Some must have Alexa skills:

Evaluate the price of your home: Thanks to its thousands of skills that suit everyone, you can now ask Alexa the estimated valuation for your home. The Hunters property valuation ‘skill’ is the first of its kind in the UK. Homeowners and landlords can now ask Alexa how much their property is worth by answering a few basic questions. Then you can book a consultancy with your local Hunters estate agents.

Dyson: Keep cool whilst laying on the sofa without moving. Dyson’s next-generation fan is compatible with Alexa. The Wi-Fi connected Pure Hot + Cool Link Air Purifier works with Alexa commands so it can be switched on and off, as well as switch between a fan and air purifier. After installing the skill, just as Alexa to “start purifying” and your air will be clean in a matter of minutes. Perfect for if you live in the city.

Lights on lights off: Whilst we are on the subject of not moving off the sofa, if you’re an Echo user who has Philips’ Hue connected light bulbs in your adobe, then get that Hue Skill downloaded. This allows you to turn your Philips Hue lights on or off and change the room’s ‘mood’. And of course, the classic Alexa skill, you can tell Alexa to play a song (even on Apple Music) to get the perfect ambiance.

TrackR: Find your phone when you lose it. Alexa is worth buying just for this skill in my opinion! If you sign up for a TrackR account and install the corresponding Skill, you can shout “Alexa find my phone!” and your handset will immediately ring at full volume, making the search easier, especially if you’re by yourself.

Uber: Can’t be bothered doing it on your phone? Ask Alexa!
Just say the right words and you can be in a taxi in a matter of minutes thanks to the Uber Alexa Skill. It might take some time setting up, but once you’re used to it, it’s a good skill to have if you cannot be bothered ordering it off your phone.

What Alexa can’t do just yet!

Shopping list – Order from supermarkets – At the moment Alexa allows consumers to buy and order from Amazon itself whether its shoes or a new phone. However, considering you can create a shopping list on the device, it would be even better if you can order your weekly shopping on it. From what I understand it’s currently in the making with business such as Morrisons and Tesco. Ocado was the first supermarket to bring this skill into play due it being an online-only retailer. Let’s hope the bigger high-street supermarkets join in.

Job search – There are plenty of job search websites in the market currently that can search for a variety of jobs with a variety of filters. It would be even better if Alexa could do this for you. You could start off by asking Alexa to search for a job in a specific area in marketing for example. You could then filter the results to location, pay, the role and whether it’s part or full time, etc. After Alexa brings up any results that you are interested in, you could ask it to email you the results or perhaps even apply for the job.

Train and bus times – Getting public transport can be a challenging, stressful thing to do on a daily basis. One of the worst things is missing it too! What would be great is if you could receive live updates from busses and trains. For example ask Alexa, “Alexa, when is the next number 3 bus from the bus stop near me?”. Amazon may then be able to work closely with bus and train companies to receive accurate results and to be able to work in all areas.

Business insurance – Rather than looking at the consumer side, it might be better to focus on the business side. At the moment Alexa does not offer the opportunity to take out business insurance. This would be very useful for business and companies and would save time so that you wouldn’t have to fill out lengthy forms that take a whole day to do. Alexa could then provide you with a quote, with an insurance company and the individual could then make the decision on whether to go ahead with it, or not.

Tune in to speak to your pets – Something that people do often leave their pets at home whilst they leave the house and go out. Something which is fairly new to the market is CCTV which allows pet owners to check in on their furry friends. An idea for Alexa is that it could allow the consumer to tune in and speak to your pet. I know of someone who’s dog cries after their owner has left and it means that they have to keep their TV on all day. This also means their electricity bill is sky high. What would be good if you could speak to your pet, or even better record a message that could play or play every half an hour or so?

Order prescriptions – One thing that would be very useful for Alexa to do is to order prescriptions. As it’s becoming more possible to facetime doctors, book appointments online and contact them regarding symptoms, this should be something that’s hopefully in the making. This would be useful to elderly people especially who maybe aren’t as ‘tech-savvy’ and struggle to work their way around the internet. With the command of your voice, your prescription could be at the pharmacy the next day.

Book a gym class – For someone who goes to the gym regularly, this would be a very useful skill. Ideally, Amazon would be able to link to various gyms and give the consumer information. Whether that be how many people are the gym right then, or the next possible class that’s on, and then the opportunity to book onto it. One again, Alexa would make life a lot easier.

Call 999 – This doesn’t just mean saying “hey Alexa call 999” in this context Alexa could save lives. If you pair up Alexa with a skill that is tied in with your Apple Watch and it notices any unusual activity it would be handy if it could call 111 – the non-emergency line and if you respond and need assistance it could be a crucial act.

Also when you set up your skill you could put all your health profile in and if you cannot respond then the doctors could ask Alexa what your blood type is etc. This would obviously only work if you were in your home, if you fell over and cannot access your phone, then it would be useful if you can say “hey Alexa call 999” and speak to the operators like that because currently, this is not doable.

Hologram phone calls – We know Facetime is amazing as it is a clear picture but what would be good is being able to have a Hologram call. Just like how the Avengers use hologram calls – (they’re up to date on technology). If Alexa could form a hologram business call with people all around the world this would be very useful as you can see people’s body language, a real-life figure which could be more effective than Facetime when in a board meeting.

Car insurance – There are only two companies currently that sell car insurance through Alexa and if you’re anything like us, we like to branch out and look for the best possible quote for car insurance. It could work like evaluating your home through Hunters. Just ask Alexa to find the cheapest car insurance, she asks you a couple of questions and then tells you the best quote and if you would like to book now or call an insurance broker.

TV recording – Now Alexa can change the channel but CANNOT record for us. What is worse than having to go off the tv programme you are currently enjoying and watching to record something someone wants to watch. Instead, wouldn’t it be great to say “hey Alexa record today’s tipping point” without it flipping screens?

Heating seats – Now this, we would use. Imagine on a cold frosty morning getting into your car with the heating on and your seats all heated up. A useful skill Alexa could have with your car is warming it up so you save the time in the morning for an extra snooze without needing your keys.

Please contact Webanywhere if you would like any help or advice in creating an Alexa skill.

With Webanywhere’s expertise in mobile app development, we can guide you through all the steps of the lifecycle of your Skill. Whether you are interested in idea creation, conception, interaction design, development, certification or hosting, our expert Alexa skills developers can help you achieve your goals. Webanywhere’s developers can build and publish skills for Alexa using the Alexa Skills Kit. Once the developed skills are published, they are available across all Alexa-enabled devices. The recent development with Hunters means you can value your home straight from your kitchen too.