All You Need to Know About Amazon’s Alexa
Alexa is the digital assistant that answers your commands and controls your smart home devices. Let’s look at what else Amazon’s Alexa can do.
Amazon’s Echo device made its debut in 2014. It wasn’t until December 2016 that the world sat up to pay attention. Amazon has been cagey about sales figures, but Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimate that the company has sold almost 11 million Echo units.
The Echo’s voice-based assistant, Alexa, is the real star of the Amazon show. Helping users to order an Uber, get directions, play music, or even perform mathematical calculations, Alexa was inspired by the Star Trek computer on board the Enterprise.
Asking Alexa to navigate a course to the nearest star system might be beyond her right now. But she learns fast, and she keeps earning fans with her ever-expanding AI system.
Let’s look at what Amazon’s Alexa can do.
What’s the Difference Between Amazon’s Alexa and Echo?
Amazon’s Echo is a wireless speaker. It’s the physical item that plays all the things you ask Alexa to play.
Alexa is the digital assistant that answers your commands, provides internet search results and weather reports, and controls your smart home devices. You can even link Alexa with your phone, meaning you can ask her to call your contacts without you needing to pick up the device.
The seven microphones embedded in the Echo make it easy for Alexa to hear you wherever you are in your home.
While Alexa is technically always on, she needs a trigger to pay attention. Most devices have a specific word, like “Alexa” or “Echo,” while the Amazon app features a button that wakes Alexa up.
This has led to privacy concerns around digital assistants. While Amazon stresses that Alexa only records after hearing the wake word, she is always listening to hear that word. The mute button on the Echo also shuts off electricity to the microphones so she can’t listen.
Why Use Alexa and Not Google Assistant or Siri?
Alexa has limitations, which we addressed here. But the future-facing aspect of Alexa comes through the “skills” you can install to expand Alexa’s functionality. If she can’t do something now, there is an additional skill available to use, or it’s in the pipeline.
Since May 2017, users have been able to order food using Alexa. That’s on top of streaming radio stations, Amazon Music, or audiobooks through Audible. Traffic and transport updates also keep you on top of problems on your daily commute.
If you use Philips Hue smart lights, Nest thermostats, or a range of other smart home devices, Alexa can also interact with them. It makes it more intuitive to ask Alexa to increase the temperature by 3 degrees than to fiddle with a thermostat.
So Why “Alexa”?
The x in her name is a hard consonant. It doesn’t sound like other letters in the alphabet so Alexa can tell when you’re talking to her. Amazon also said they were trying to play with ideas around the great Library of Alexandria.
Is Alexa Only Available in Amazon Devices?
Not at all. The Alexa system also appears within the Amazon apps you can download for iOS or Android. Better still, you can install Alexa voice controls within the SURE Universal remote. Instead of controlling your smart home devices through the app’s interface, you can now tell the remote app what to do.
Open your SURE Universal remote app. Tap the three dots in the top corner of the screen and choose “Features.” Tap the top option, “Alexa.” Sign into your Amazon account when prompted. Then, go back to the SURE app and select Alexa.
First, she’ll ask for your voice command. It’ll show up that she’s “listening.” Then it’ll change to “thinking” as she processes the request. She’ll respond, and then you can use Alexa to control the devices linked to your app.
Even if you don’t have an Echo, you can still enjoy the benefits of Alexa. Just remember to use her name before you ask her to do something.
Over to you – do you use Alexa in your daily life?