If you ask Amazon they’ll tell you one of the biggest technology hits of the past holiday season was Echo with Amazon. Actually, you don’t even have to ask. Amazon already said Echo was a hit and that means more Alexa in more homes.
In fact, even Apple says the Amazon Alexa application was a big hit and topped the charts over the past few weeks. What does that say? Not as much as you might want, especially if you prefer numbers to Amazon’s traditional seasonal hyperbole, but let’s go with this. Alexa is growing, and while it may not be running on anywhere near Apple’s 1-billion or so iPhones and iPads as Siri, it’s a talking force to be contended with anyway.
Amazon’s television commercials are a compelling if somewhat loose use of the technology. Most of what you can get from an Echo is what you can get from Siri, but Amazon has done a good job of connecting Echo and Alexa (the box and the voice response) to a variety of devices in the home.
Just a few weeks ago Taylor Martin and David Priest compiled a list of Alexa commands.
- Ask for help: “Alexa, help.”
- Have a conversation: “Alexa, let’s chat.”
- Mute or unmute: “Alexa, mute” or, “Alexa, unmute.”
- Stop or pause: “Alexa, stop” or, “Alexa, shut up.”
- Change volume: “Alexa, set the volume to 5,” “Alexa, louder” or “Alexa, turn up/down the volume.”
- Ask for what the Echo Show can display: “Alexa, what can you show me?”
- Show your calendar: “Alexa, show my calendar.”
- Show pictures: “Alexa, show my photos” or, “Alexa, show me pictures of cats.”
- View your cameras or other rooms: “Alexa, show the living room camera.”
- View movie trailers: “Alexa, show me the trailer for ‘It.'”
- Movie showtimes: “Alexa, show me movie showtimes.”
- View the forecast: “Alexa, show me the weekend forecast.”
- Play YouTube videos: “Alexa, show me travel videos on YouTube.”
- Display recipes: “Alexa, show me a slow cooker recipe from Allrecipes.”
- View your Flash Briefing: “Alexa, play my video Flash Briefing.”
- See your timers: “Alexa, show me my timers.”
- Open a visual skill: “Alexa, open Uber.”
- Play music: “Alexa, play some music.”
- Play music on other (or multiple) Alexa devices: “Alexa, play [artist] in the living room” or “Alexa, play [artist] everywhere.”
- Queue specific song or artist: “Alexa, play music by [artist].”
- Play a song based on context: “Alexa, play the latest Avett Brothers album” or “Alexa, play that song that goes ‘Gotta gotta be down, because I want it all.'”
- : “Alexa, play baby-making music” or “Alexa, play rock music for working.”
- Play the song of the day: “Alexa, play the song of the day.”
You get the idea. There are dozens more including notifications, ways to buy from Amazon (of course), shopping and to-do lists, plus the standard fare of news and weather.
Just a few weeks earlier Sarah Jacobsson Purewal and Jason Cipriani compiled a list of Siri commands.
- Call or FaceTime someone. Ex.: “Call Sarah,” or “FaceTime Mom.”
- Start a call on speakerphone. Ex.””Call Mom on speaker.”
- Call an emergency number. Ex.: “Call 911,” or “Call the fire department.”
- Check voice mail. Ex.: “Do I have any new voice mail?” or “Play the voice mail from Mom.”
- Text someone. Ex.: “Tell [name] I am on my way,” or “Tell [name] I am going to the store.”
- Send an email. Ex.: “Send email to [name] about [subject] and say [message].”
- Hear your messages or emails read aloud. Ex.: “Read my new messages,” or “Check email.”
- Set a timer. Ex.: “Set the timer for 10 minutes.”
- Check the weather. Ex.: “What’s the weather like today?” or “Do I need an umbrella?”
- Check stocks. Ex.: “What’s Apple’s stock price?” or “Where’s the NASDAQ today?”
- Conversions (of all kinds). Ex.: “How many cups are in a quart?” or “How many dollars are in a Euro?” or “How many pounds are in a stone?”
- Calculate tips. Ex.: “What is a 20 percent tip on $68?”
- Solve math problems. Ex.: “What is 234 divided by 6?” or “What is the square root of 16?”
- Take a picture.
- Take a selfie.
- Turn on/off [Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Cellular Data, Airplane Mode, Do Not Disturb, Night Shift]
- Increase/decrease brightness.
- Open [app].
- Take me home.
- What’s traffic like on the way home?
- Find [driving, walking, transit] directions to [destination].
- How do I get to [destination] by [walking, bus, bike, car, train, etc.]?
- Where is [business name]?
- Where is the nearest [business type]?
- Find out how long until you arrive. Ex.: “What’s my ETA?”
- How much does gas cost right now?
- Basic controls: Play, pause/stop, skip/next, play previous song.
- Play [artist] or [song name] or [album].
- “Play some music” to begin a custom Apple Music radio station
- ‘Like’ the song you’re listening to. Ex.: “Like this song.”
- Shuffle my playlist.
- Choose the next song. Ex.: “After this, play Wildest Dreams.”
- Find chart-toppers from certain years. Ex.: “Play the top songs from 2013.”
- Play songs that are similar to the one you’re listening to. Ex.: “Play more like this.”
- What song is this?
- Buy this song.
See? Pretty much the same kind of thing even if some of the queries and responses are different. And Siri has a few dozen more, too.
Here’s the problem with Alexa and Siri. We’re required to remember the list of things each can do, proper context, and cannot stray too far from the basics otherwise we enter the never-never-land of confusion and frustration.
I remain convinced this home speaker and talking personal assistant thing isn’t really a thing. Yet.