Turn your Echo or Echo Dot into a night light with this clever Alexa skill

Night Light is an interesting new Alexa Skill that lets you use the blue LED light ring on the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot as a makeshift night light. It uses a clever trick that makes the Echo think it’s continuously responding, which in turn results in the light ring staying illuminated. Read more ›

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Alexa now supports Skills for kids with Sesame Street, Nickelodeon, and others on board

Amazon has announced that Alexa in the US now supports kid skills. Developers can now publish fun and educational skills for children under the age of 13. This was previously not allowed due to the FTC’s strict guidelines under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) but Amazon now allows customers to manage parental consent for Alexa devices. Before using an Alexa skill made for children, an adult must first authorize that the active Alexa profile may use such skills. Read more ›

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Amazon releases new “Today in Music” flash briefing for Alexa

There are already over 3,000 different Flash Briefing skills to choose from for Alexa, but Amazon has added a new one of their own. “Today in Music” is a new daily program from Amazon that helps uncover interesting content available through Amazon Music Unlimited. The show covers new releases and music history. It plays short clips of tracks mentioned as well as short interviews with highlighted artists. If that sounds like something that interests you, just ask Alexa to “enable Today in Music” and the program will play first the next time you ask for your flash briefing, which can be done by saying “Alexa, what’s new?” You can disable the flash briefing or manage the order that its played in the Alexa app under Settings > Flash Briefings.

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Amazon expands program that pays Alexa skill developers

Earlier this year, Amazon introduced a program that pays developers of the most popular Alexa skill games. Today they’ve announced that the rewards program is expanding to now include Alexa skills in six more categories. Developers of Alexa skills in the categories Education & Reference, Food & Drink, Health & Fitness, Lifestyle, Music & Audio, and Productivity will now also earn money if their skills receive enough engagement. Amazon has still not revealed specifics on how much can be earned, but they will use metrics such as the total minutes a skill is used, the number of new customers, the number of recurring customers, the skill’s customer ratings, and more to determine how much a developer is paid each month. One Alexa developer tells TechCrunch that he estimates the top skill in a category receives about $5,000 each month, #6 gets about $2,000, #7 gets about $1,000, and #300 gets about $100.

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Logitech updates their Alexa Smart Home Skill for Harmony remotes with more natural commands

Logitech has announced that their Alexa Smart Home Skill, which allows control of their Harmony remotes and hubs, now supports more natural language commands using the new entertainment control capabilities that were just made available to developers by Amazon. These updates now remove the need to have two different Alexa skills for Harmony devices and make controlling devices much more intuitive. Read more ›

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Amazon adds Entertainment Capabilities to Alexa so skill developers can better control TVs and media players

Amazon has announced an expansion of the Alexa Skill API which gives skill developers and device manufacturers more natural ways to control media devices like TVs, remotes, A/V receivers, and IR hubs. This new capability is surely what will make it possible to control the Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick using Alexa devices, which is a new feature that Amazon accidentally leaked yesterday. Read more ›

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Unofficial AFTVnews flash briefing Alexa skill now available

A reader of the site has created an unofficial AFTVnews flash briefing that you can hear through your Alexa devices. He is using the site’s standard RSS feed, so it’s not a perfect experience. For starters, Alexa does not read the title of each post before reading the post itself. It also cuts the post off abruptly by saying “read more,” since the RSS feed provides a “read more” link for text readers to click, which obviously doesn’t make sense in the case of an Alexa flash briefing. Despite the issues, give the flash briefing a try if you tend to use that aspect of Alexa, and let me know in the comments if you’d like me to work on improving the experience.

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You can now listen to SiriusXM through Alexa on devices like the Amazon Echo and Fire TV

SiriusXM, the satellite radio network, has just released a new Alexa Skill that allows you to listen to the service’s radio stations through Alexa. Even though this is an Alexa skill, accessing SiriusXM stations is similar to accessing music through service’s like Spotify or Pandora. Once you have the Alexa skill enabled, which you can do by saying “Alexa, enable SiriusXM,” and configured your login credentials through the Alexa app, you can then ask “Alexa, play [station name] on SiriusXM” to start listening to a station. Read more ›

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Amazon clarifies what types of ads are allowed in Alexa skills and reaffirms that most ads are banned


Amazon updated their developer policy recently to ban nearly all advertisements from Alexa skills. As the Alexa platform continues to rapidly grow, having now reaching over 12,000 skills, it’s beginning to attract advertisers, despite Amazon’s policy on the matter. Amazon has just updated their policy on Alexa skill ads again to be more specific on the types of ads that are allowed, and reassert that the vast majority of ads are not permitted in Alexa skills. Read more ›

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All Alexa-enabled devices will soon get notifications

Notifications from Amazon and Alexa skills will soon be coming to all Alexa-enabled devices. This includes Amazon’s own Alexa devices, like the Echo and Echo Dot, as well as 3rd-party devices, like the newly released Ecobee4 smart thermostat. All notifications will be opt-in per skill through the Alexa app, so you’ll have to explicitly turn them on separately for each Alexa skill. Read more ›

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Amazon will directly pay developers of top Alexa game skills based on customer engagement

Amazon is shutting down their Underground appstore, but they’re not giving up on the idea of paying developers based on the amount of time users play a game. Starting this month, the retailer will be directly paying developers of top Alexa game skills. Payments will be based on “a variety of metrics, such as minutes of usage, new customers, and other measures of engagement.” Read more ›

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Alexa Skills can now read and modify your shopping and to-do lists

Late last year, Amazon added support for 3rd-party list managers to Alexa. This allowed services like Any.do or Todoist to take over list managing duties from Alexa, so saying “add eggs to my shopping list” would modify the 3rd-party list and not the list built into the Alexa app. For those not interested in using a 3rd-party list manager and just want to use Alexa’s built-in lists with some more features, Amazon is now allowing Alexa skill developers to read and modify your default Alexa shopping and to-do lists. Read more ›

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Amazon bans nearly all ads from Alexa Skills

Amazon has updated their Alexa Skills Policy to outright ban nearly all advertisements from skills. The policy used to state that ads were only not allowed in Alexa cards, which are the visual snippets of information that appear on the Fire TV and Fire Tablets, that compliment Alexa responses. Now the Alexa skills policy states that a skill will be rejected from entry into the Alexa Skill Store if it “contains any advertising for third-party products or services, except in streaming music, streaming radio or flash briefing skills.” Read more ›

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Any Alexa skill can now be used without enabling it first

Alexa skills are the equivilant of apps for Amazon’s voice assistant, and the company has incrementally been making it easier to use new skills. You first had to use the Alexa app to enable a skill before it could be accessed, but then Amazon added the ability to enable a skill using your voice. Now they’ve taken it a step further by making it possible to simply say “Alexa, open [SKILL NAME]” and it will immediately be available without first having to enable it. Read more ›

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Amazon will pay for Alexa Skill hosting with free $100 monthly credits

Amazon just started a new promotion for developers where they’ll pay up to $100 per month of AWS hosting for Alexa Skills. For the majority of skills, this would make publishing and hosting a skill on Amazon’s cloud servers completely free for the developer of the skill. Developers simply need to apply for the credit once and they’ll receive $100 of AWS credit once their skill is live. Then, if the skill’s hosting usage surpasses AWS’s free tier and uses up the initial $100, the developer will automatically receive an additional $100 AWS credit each month.

This new promotion essentially makes all but the most CPU and bandwidth intense skills completely free to host, since the majority of skills don’t require much as far as hosting resources are concerned. While most of the 10,000+ Alexa skills currently survive on the AWS free tier alone, this promotion should hopefully encourage developers to create more elaborate skills without worrying about hosting fees.

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Amazon’s Alexa now has over 10,000 3rd-party skills

Amazon has revealed that Alexa has surpassed 10,000 skills. Alexa Skills are similar to phone apps, in that they are created by 3rd-parties to add functionality to the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Tap, Fire TV, and Fire TV Stick. The number of skills being created has shot up exponentially in recent months. Back when Amazon added the ability to rate and review skills a little over a year ago, there were only 91 skills. Just 6 months later, when Amazon improved skill discoverability and added the ability to enable skills by asking Alexa, the number of skills were up to 1,400. By the time Amazon finally launched dedicated web pages for Alexa skills five months later, there were over 4,000 skills. Now that number has more than doubled in just under 4 months.

Of course, just like with Fire TV apps, the number of total Alexa skills is not nearly as important as the number of quality skills. You’ll have to ignore a bunch of cookie cutter trivia games and fact skills to find ones that truly add value to your device.

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Amazon’s Alexa gains more personality through special Speechcon expressive words

Amazon has added support for Speechcon words and phrases to Alexa. Speechcons are exclamations that will be pronounced more expressively by Alexa. There are nearly 200 different words, from abracadabra to zoinks, that Alexa Skill developers can choose to include in their Alexa responses. You can see the full list of words, and hear what Alexa sounds like saying each word, here on Amazon’s developer site. This new ability should add a bit of fun and emotion to Alexa’s usual monotone pronunciations. I’d say nanu nanu and dynomite are good ones.

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All the voice commands understood by the Plex Alexa Skill

The newly released Plex Alexa Skill is a great way to control the Plex app with your voice using a voice remote on the Amazon Fire TV or through an Amazon Echo. Here’s the full list of available voice commands that Plex understands. Read more ›

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Plex releases new Alexa Skill for full voice control of the media center app

Plex is one of the best media center apps on the Amazon Fire TV or Fire TV Stick and it just got a lot better with their announcement today of a new Alexa Skill that grants complete voice control of the app. The Plex Alexa Skill allows Plex users to use their voice for simple tasks like controlling playback, by saying something like “Alexa, tell Plex to pause” or “Alexa, ask Plex to play season 3, episode 4 of Breaking Bad,” and more complex tasks like switching media servers, by saying “Alexa, ask plex to change my server.” The Plex Alexa Skill can also suggest content, by asking “Alexa, ask Plex recommend something,” and tell you what’s been recently added to your library by saying “Alexa, ask Plex what’s new?

These new voice control capabilities are a great new addition to Plex on the Fire TV since Alexa is already built into the device. Apart from having to say “Ask Plex…” or “Tell Plex…” before every command, it feels like the app itself now has native voice control through the Fire TV’s voice remote. Those of you who are diehard Kodi/SPMC/MrMC users may want to give Plex a look for this new feature alone.

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How to add Google’s Voice Assistant to Alexa on the Amazon Echo and Fire TV

The two leading voice assistants are Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s unnamed voice assistant. While Alexa is capable of doing more, Google’s voice assistant tends to respond to knowledge questions more accurately with the help of Google’s search engine. Thanks to an open source project, it’s now possible to unofficially add Google’s voice assistant to Amazon Echo and Fire TV devices as an Alexa Skill. This allows you to simply say “Alexa, ask Google …” followed by any question to hear Google’s answer. Here’s how to set it up on your Amazon account. Read more ›

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