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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Alexa is coming to existing Amazon Fire TVs and Fire TV Sticks in the UK and Germany

Ever since the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot officially launched in the UK and Germany, it was expected that Fire TV owners in those countries would eventually get access to Alexa on their devices, just like Fire TV owners in the US. Now that the Fire TV Stick 2 with Alexa has been officially announced for the UK and Germany, Amazon has confirmed that Alexa will also be added to all existing Fire TV and Fire TV Stick models in those countries. Read more ›

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Exclusive: Fire TV Stick 2 and Alexa on Fire TV in the UK and Germany to be announced this week

Earlier this month I speculated that the 2nd generation Amazon Fire TV Stick abruptly went out of stock in the US because Amazon was sending most units to the UK and Germany in preparation of an upcoming release. I can now say with certainty that Amazon will announce this week that the Fire TV Stick 2 will finally be available outside of the US, specifically in the UK and Germany. Additionally, when the Fire TV Stick 2 arrives in the UK and Germany, it will come with full Alexa capabilities in both countries.

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Alexa can now finally read thermostat values without needing to use a Skill

Amazon’s Alexa has been able to directly control smart thermostats for over a year now, but one glaring omission has been its inability to tell you anything about the thermostats current state. While you could always ask Alexa to set a temperature, you couldn’t request what the thermostat was set to or request to hear the actual current indoor temperature, leaving many to resort to using third-party Alexa Skills for those tasks. Amazon has now finally updated their Alexa Smart Home Skill API to support thermostat requests. Read more ›

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Amazon Echo rumored to gain voice calling capabilities

According to sources familiar with the matter, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Amazon Echo may soon be able to make and receive voice calls. This would position the device as a potential replacement for the home phone. The WSJ says the feature could arrive this year, but federal regulations regarding access to 911 and laws requiring phone companies to allow law enforcement agencies to wiretap calls in real time could complicate the release. Amazon announced Chime, an enterprise conferencing service, earlier this week, so they certainly now have the infrastructure to support voice-over-IP calling. I highly doubt such a feature would be supported on a device like the Fire TV through the microphone on the voice remote, but the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot certainly have the hardware to act as a speakerphone.

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Amazon adds support for Calendars to Alexa

I doubt the schedule is intentional, but every ten months, Amazon improves Alexa’s calendar support. In 2015 they added the ability to hear what’s on a Google calendar. Then in 2016 they made it possible to add items to a Google calendar. Now Amazon has added support for calendars to Alexa. The feature is still rolling out, so it might not be available to everyone yet, but when it arrives you can go into the calendar settings section of the Alexa app or web portal and link your Outlook account. Then you’ll be able to say “what’s on my calendar?” to hear the latest events or say “add an event to my calendar” to add new items.

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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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Amazon Tap speakers can respond to hands-free Alexa commands with latest software update

Amazon has just pushed a new software update to their Amazon Tap speakers that add the option to enable always listening capabilities for hands-free commands, just like you find on the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot. When the Tap was first released, as the name suggests, the only way to talk to Alexa was to first tap the microphone button on the front of the portable speaker. The new hands-free option brings the device’s Alexa feature set nearly on par with the flagship Echo speaker. Read more ›

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Alexa Voice Service now available for the UK and Germany

Amazon has announced that Alexa Voice Service (AVS) is now available for devices in the UK and Germany. AVS is what allows any manufacturer to build Alexa into their device. This is distinctly different from the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), which is what allows Alexa to talk to other devices and services. The US already has devices, like the Triby, that have Alexa built-in, with more devices, like a GE lamp, on their way. Now customers in the UK and Germany should start seeing devices hit the market with Alexa capabilities built-in. This news should mean that Alexa will finally make her debut on UK and German Fire TVs soon.

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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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