Inspired from the Star Trek Computer, Amazon aspired to develop an interface which was capable of communicating with the human being or in other words you can say a conversational UI. This resulted into birth of a smart, intelligent personal assistant which obeyed your voice commands, known as Amazon Alexa!!!
What is Amazon Alexa?
Alexa is a smart voice control system by Amazon. It is strictly based on a verbal framework to carry out various tasks using voice commands.
It can play music for you, can set alarms, play audio books, stream your podcasts, tell weather forecast, traffic reports and even fetching real time data such as time, news and scores of the Live matches.
Alexa is so powerful that it can connect with other smart appliances at home and turning itself into a complete home automation system. You can switch off/on the lights, dimmer the lights, give commands to your smart fan through Alexa and many more home activities.
The more you use it, the more smartly and intelligently it learns your preferences, vocabulary, speech patterns and tends to get more smarter in answering your queries.
By the time Apple and Google were competing with each other, Amazon swiped them from the side door with its intelligent and attractive range of smart speakers powered by Alexa. Amazon Echo, Amazon Tap and Amazon Echo Dot works in a similar fashion with some slight variation. Let’s go deeper and explore each of them individually.
Alexa gained popularity with the advent of Amazon Echo, Amazon Dot and Amazon Tap. Amazon Echo, the highest selling smart speaker which obeys your voice commands and can perform a lot of activities like searching on internet, creating your shopping list etc besides playing your favorite music.
Alexa serves as the brain of the Amazon Echo.
Speed and accuracy are Echo’s USP. Echo is equipped with several microphones which are connected to Alexa. It is controlled by a “wake word” (activation word), ‘ALEXA’.
The wake word can be changed to “Computer”, “Echo” or “Amazon”. This 9-inch smart speaker is a perfect pick if your home is rigged with smart devices.
I would surely be happy if I could have more freedom in choosing my wake word. Hey Amazon! Are you listening?
Amazon Echo Dot
Amazon Echo Dot is a miniature version of Echo, just as a size of a hockey puck. It is the best alternative to those who want same services as of Echo but at a lesser price. Dot is designed in such a manner so as to connect to the existing sound system with Bluetooth quite easily.
Amazon has developed the APIs in such an incredible manner that manufactures from other smart devices are able to hook them with Alexa pretty easily, a step closer to the main concept of Smart Home.
Smart Home powered by Amazon, eh?! Sounds cool!
Amazon Tap is a battery operated portable dual stereo smart speaker. Echo and Dot can stay in listening mode and get activated by wake-up word.
However in case of Tap one needs to get up and tap it in order to activate the smart listening mode.
Amazon Lex: The Technology behind Amazon Alexa
Amazon Lex is a system involving Natural Language Understanding (NLU) powered with Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) system for building conversation interfaces for both voice and text.
According to Amazon, Lex is an incredibly designed platform which can be used anywhere from web to mobile where there is a need to provide information.
How Amazon Alexa Works?
There are three main steps involved in working of Alexa.
Step 1: Activating Alexa
Alexa is always listening. It gets activated when you say the wake word, which is “Alexa”. The wake word can be changed to “computer”, “echo” or “Amazon”.
As soon as you say these magical words, microphones start the recording process to whatever you say next.
Step 2: Alexa Voice Service
Once the audio recording has been completed. Then the recording is sent over the web to Amazon cloud. Now the processing of recorded message takes place which is done by AVS (Alexa Voice Services).
Here the command is broken into interpret-able form just like voice-to-text service. AVS provides API’s to different users to interface with Alexa.
Step 3: Output
If you have commanded any smart home appliance, it will be decoded from smart home skill API from the Alexa cloud service and your work will be done. In case you have queried for any information, it will be answered back.
Skills are the capabilities offered by Alexa to users for personalizing their experience with the smart devices. Here I am listing some ways in which Alexa skills engage people and is loved by them.
There are essentially 5 reasons which make the users coming back to them again and again.
1. A dose of fresh content
One or the other Alexa skill keeps you giving you some fresh update maybe in the form of news or about your health or even a weekly update, for example, by BabyCenter (for pregnant ladies).
2. An integral part of daily routine
Some Alexa skills mark your daily routine such as news briefing, celebrity gossip, FitBit etc.
3. Voice of a personality
Here you can get voice interface for Alexa from a personality such as Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer etc.
4. Smart Home
Alexa controls your other smart devices which make your dream of a smart home comes true.
5. Great user experience
A great user experience with Alexa, which in turns imparts user satisfaction and happy mood.
Have you read about the best and worst of Amazon Alexa skills?
Some Amazon Alexa Commands
One can’t imagine the number of Skills Amazon Alexa is possessing, as it keeps on adding more and more every day.
Let’s explore some of the basic voice commands which are in-built into Alexa. Some of them start working immediately as soon as you switch on the Echo or any other similar device and some work through the Alexa app.
1. Playing Music:
It will play music of your choice, preferred artist or genre.
Command: “Alexa, Play Relaxing Music”
2. Weather Forecast:
It will tell you about the weather forecast for today. It drives data from Accu-weather. You can even get a long-range of forecast for your city or any part of the world.
Command:”Alexa, What’s the weather tomorrow?”
3. Latest News:
It will read out the news snippet for you based on your preferences you have used like CNN, BBC etc.
Command:” Alexa, What’s in the news?”
4. Manage shopping and to-do list:
Alexa comes with a to-do and shopping list as well.
Command: “Alexa, add coffee to my shopping list”
5. Alarms and Timers:
This smart speaker acts as your alarm clock as well as a timer for you.
Command: “Alexa, set an alarm for 6:30 AM”
6. Managing Calendar Events:
You can link any of your Google or Microsoft calendar through Alexa app. The speaker will read out you schedule, important events etc for you.
Command: “Alexa, What am I doing on Tuesday?”
7. Sports Update:
You can get your favorite sport scores, news and other update by just one voice command.
Command: “Alexa, When is the next soccer match?”
8. Information from web:
Anything to everything you want to know about. The answers to your questions are brief and to the point.
Command: “Alexa, tell me about the movie Titanic”
9. Call a cab:
This command uses to configure your cab settings first in the Alexa app.
Command: “Alexa, ask Uber for a ride at 10 AM.”
10. Controlling your smart devices:
You can give commands to your smart appliances from Alexa’s voice commands.
Command: “Alexa, Dim the bed room lights.”
These are just a few commands for you to try out.
Just name a thing and you will find something for that like ordering Pizza, booking a vacation, recipes, playing verbal games etc. The list is endless and is ever-growing too.
No doubt Alexa skill is in demand these days.
Amazon Alexa Vs Google Home
A new hype was created in the AI industry just after the release of Echo. Google is trying to win over the IoT space in similar fashion by introducing its own new Google Home.
Alexa has Open API’s which enable third party developers to integrate Alexa with their devices. This is the major advantage which Alexa has over Google Home. It is the openness of the platform which allows it to compete with other rivals.
Smart Home Concept:
Alexa is the first choice for a smart Home integration. Google home is not yet powered fully to support all smart devices as it is still under improvement phase.
Alexa is still unbeatable in providing general services. While Google may be capable of only playing news, sport scores or ordering a Pizza, but Alexa is equipped with much more like reading your Facebook and Twitter, guiding you through your daily fitness regime, week by week analysis of pregnancy etc.
Google still needs to do a lot of homework.
Google home beats Alexa in this arena. As it is backed by the most powerful search engine (Google itself), I don’t think even Apple or any other company’s virtual assistant can beat it.
While Google Home has some more improvements to do in the near future, but when it comes to a Smart Home concept, Alexa stands unconquerable. All credit goes to third party Alexa skills.
Alexa has touched approximately 10,000+ third party skills already.
Hats Off!!! Now you can clearly imagine the popularity and demand of Alexa.
Amazon Alexa Tips and Tricks
Planning to get an Echo or Dot, here are some super cool tips and tricks which you should definitely do on your new Echo and feel the magic of artificial intelligence with Alexa.
TIP 1: Let Alexa read a bed time story for you
The Echo knows which all books you have purchased from Amazon Kindle and do the reading for you.
Alexa remembers where you left last time on Kindle or Smartphone. When you feel sleepy, don’t forget to say “Alexa, Goodnight”.
TIP 2: Check your bank accounts
Suppose you hold your account in Capital One Bank, then there is a skill for it named Capital One Skill. You can get information of your transactions, balance, savings, credit cards etc right from Alexa.
Not only viewing part, but you can also do your transactions or pay your bills with just a single voice command to your Echo.
TIP 3: Get Fit and Look Attractive in just 7 minutes
Don’t miss the 7-minute workout for you.
Let Alexa be your personal fitness trainer and follow her step by step. Common it’s just 7 minutes! We all can spare that much time from our daily routine.
TIP 4: Play a Game
Playing a game can be a real stress buster and if you have a companion like Alexa does, you can imagine what you have in your hands. Magic Door, Jeopardy, Higher/Lower are some of the games which are worth a try.
To begin exploring the mysterious world behind the magic door just say, “Alexa, enable the magic door”. Just say “Alexa, Play Jeopardy”, and your favorite questionnaire is ready to begin.
TIP 5: Locate your car
There is a little adapter which gets hooked to your car and can perform all the tracking activities. This little gizmo with Alexa enabled into it, can tell you your car’s location, gas levels and engine status.
TIP 6: Home Automation
Control all your smart devices with just voice commands to Alexa or Echo speaker and let Alexa do the rest for you. Just rest on your couch and play with the things. If you really want to enjoy the technology, have a few smart devices installed at your home.
TIP 7: Smart Kitchen assistant
Echo can read you a recipe or can set a timer (even multiple timers) for you in case you want something time specific. In fact there is CookBook in Skills guiding you through the procedure step by step.
TIP 8: A perfect virtual organizer
You can add anything to your to-do list with just a voice command, create reminders, and add a thing to your shopping list (which generally comes to mind while working and skips off if not noted at that moment).
I have covered 21 Amazon Alexa Tips and Tricks in one of my articles – don’t miss it.
Winding Up: The Final Words on Alexa
Alexa is an incredibly intelligent technology by Amazon which is powering the concept of smart homes and bringing Internet of Things (IoT) to the masses.
It is an excellent example of how artificial intelligence combined with machine learning will evolve the way we go about doing things in our daily life.
Do you think Google Home can beat Amazon Alexa in the future? Do let us know.
Test your Knowledge about Amazon Alexa