Apple’s Siri  helped turn the long-predicted tech concept of a “virtual assistant” (or, digital assistant, chatbot, etc.) into a reality loaded onto millions of smartphones. But it has been Amazon’s Alexa, made popular by the Amazon Alexa, that has convinced a growing number of users that accessing internet services and information doesn’t require a keyboard, screen or app. It can be as simple talking. Like Siri, Alexa is the chatbot software that enables a user to interact with online information or “the internet of things.” Earlier this year (2016), Amazon opened up the Alexa platform so that third-party developers could create “skills” that will connect a command or question delivered via Alexa with a developer’s content or capabilities. Within three months, Amazon announced that 3,000 skills had been developed. Many of these skills can be helpful to those who own or manage a small business. (Note: In an upcoming article, we will explore other voice-command “digital assistant” software on other platforms, including Google Assistant and Microsoft Cortana.)


Devices that enable a user to tap into Alexa skills

Again, it is important to understand that “Alexa” is software. It powers the voice-activated interface you will use to ask for information or use to control a wide array of smart devices like thermostats and sprinklers (WeMo, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Nest, ecobee, etc.). The hardware that allows you to use Alexa is today limited to three devices. (While there are apps that allow you to control settings on a device, there is no app that is an Alexa interface.)

Here are the current devices that are Alexa enabled:

Amazon Echo | The original Alexa device that is also a wi-fi speaker. (NOT battery powered, plugs in. Current price $179. 10.17.2016)
Amazon Echo Dot | A smaller version of the original Alexa (NOT battery powered, plugs in. Current price $50 or six for $250, 10.17.2016)
Amazon Tap | (Battery powered, charging cradle included. Current price $130, 10.17.2016)

How to find and enable an Alexa skill

1 | Go to Alexa.Amazon.com
2 | Select Skills in the left navigation bar
3 | After finding the skill you want, click or tap “enable”

find-skill


A Few of The Alexa Small Business Skills You Can Enable

This is just a small sampling. For more, enable the skill called “Skill Finder” and ask Alexa if a skill exists for what you are trying to accomplish.

Summon an Uber driver

“Alexa, ask Uber to request a ride” and one will be on its way to your location in minutes.”

Change the temperature

If you have a Nest thermostat: “Alexa, cool down the reception area” will start lowering the temperature.

Check the air quality

With the Air Quality Report skill enabled, you can look up the current air quality in any 5-digit US ZIP code—just say “Alexa, ask Air Quality Report for (zip code)”

Find the distance between two places

“Alexa, how far is it from Santa Fe to San Francisco”?

Improve your spelling

There are several spelling skills that work like this: “Alexa, how do you spell ____?

Translate into another language

Enable the My Translator skill and you can ask for help translating a foreign term.

Check your commute traffic

Alexa can tap into local traffic reports, enabling you to ask how your commute is looking (You must set up home and work locations through the device).

Create your own skills

If you are a tech-savvy do-it-yourselfer, creating your own Amazon skills can be easy with the Alexa Skills Kit. If you use IFTTT, you can create even more.

VIA | Amazon.com, Business Insider