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The Weekly Echo: playing around with skills and automation

The Weekly Echo: playing around with skills and automation

Connected Home
August 25, 2015

Welcome to another edition of AppAdvice’s The Weekly Echo, a column that covers all things related to Amazon Echo and the Internet of Things. Alexa, the artificial intelligence and “brains” behind the Amazon Echo, keeps getting smarter and gaining new capabilities, so I’ve got some cool new features to tell you about.

Same app, different name

The first thing you should know is that the iOS app you use to set up your Echo has gone through a name change. Instead of being called Amazon Echo, the app is now named Amazon Alexa. The jury is still out on why Amazon named the brains behind the Echo Alexa, but hey, I like it.

New skills

Two new skills have been added to Alexa, including a Bingo app and a Cat Facts function. With Bingo, Alexa will call out the numbers for you. Each number is repeated and sent to the Alexa app, and you can get a free Bingo card from the LoveMyEcho Web page.


Cat Facts is a fun app filled with interesting details about our feline friends. I asked Alexa to open Cat Facts, and she responded by telling me, “Female felines are ‘superfecund,’ which means that each of the kittens in her litter can have a different father. Meow.” Yes, Alexa actually meowed at the end of that one; this gal’s got some real personality programmed into her.


New flexibility in Google Calendars

If you have linked your Google Calendar to Alexa, you’ve got some new flexibility. You can select which shared calendars Alexa will read from when you ask her what’s on your schedule. This is very helpful if you have several different shared calendars, but only want to hear about one or two of them. I use this to keep track of app launches and interviews, and it’s very handy to be able to listen to a list of appointments instead of having to look at my calendar.


More smart home functionality

Even though it hasn’t been released yet, Amazon Echo already works with Samsung’s SmartThings to control additional connected home devices. The repertoire of things you can control with Alexa keeps growing, and it means I’m going to need a second Amazon Echo soon for my downstairs time.


Something different about Dash

Finally, in the Internet of Things realm, don’t forget that you can use those Amazon Dash buttons for more than just ordering things. As we discussed in a recent article, one hacker has figured out how to use the branded buttons to track everything from poopy diapers to sleep patterns.

Coming soon

More skills are on the way to the Echo. For example, the developer behind the Crystal Ball and Bingo skills has an upcoming addition to Alexa called Angry Bard. When available, it will hurl insults at you from the collected works of William Shakespeare. Should be fun.

Closing thoughts

That’s it for this week’s Echo roundup. What would you like to see me talk about in The Weekly Echo? I am listening and ready to delve deep into whatever you might want to know about this amazing gadget. While you’re thinking about that, try asking Alexa if her refrigerator is running or if she has Prince Albert in a can.

Mentioned apps

Amazon Alexa
Amazon Alexa

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