Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
This guide has been prepared to show you the required steps involved in adding new functionality to your Alexa device using the Skills feature. The guide covers all the Amazon Alexa Echo Speaker and Show devices, including those with a screen and those with just a speaker.
In this guide you’ll find out:
Should you have any difficulties please don’t hesitate to get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have also created a series of videos to help you, which you can find on our YouTube Channel.
A Skill is a bit like a mobile phone application (or app for short). This is an additional piece of software created by a developer to work on the Amazon Alexa platform, the only slight difference is that the software is cloud based and sits with Amazon linked to your online account rather than physically on your actual speaker device. These skills are designed to augment the functionality built-in by Amazon. They cover a range of topic areas from communications to shopping, with the most popular ones providing entertainment.
Most Skills are free, but some have premium versions, meaning there are additional charges to use some of the functionality. These charges vary depending on the skill, and can be one-off payments, monthly rolling subscriptions or packs which have a maximum number of uses or can only be used in a specific time frame. Charges typically are a couple of pounds per month.
You can find out more about Skills on the Amazon website.
Skills are always given a unique name. This is usually two words, to make it easy to remember and say, some skills have longer names which make them harder to interact with.
Here are some examples of skills to try:
There are now hundreds of thousands of skills for Alexa. Finding things that you are interested in can be quite tricky as the search functionality on the Amazon website and in the Alexa app are not great. On first look, you would think that you can search by keywords, customer ratings and how new a skill is, but in reality the results aren’t displayed in any logical order and are strongly influenced by how popular the skills are in terms of their use rather than reviews or usefulness of features.
There are 22 categories of skills in the Alexa app, one of which is the Newest Arrivals which strictly speaking isn’t a category. It should be noted that the Catergories listed on the app are different to the Amazon website version, with both Communication and Home Services missing from the list in the app. However, Home Services are treated as a sub-category of Lifestyle and can be found there in the Alexa app. Similarly Communication sits as a sub-category within the Social category. What’s even more confusing is that many of the main displayed categories are infact also sub-categories, for example Health & Fitness is a sub-category of Lifestyle.
We’d recommend having a go browsing the store. What you’ll find is there is a very wide variety of skill types even within what should be a narrower category and you may find that the best skills don’t appear on the first page of the search results, so it can take quite a bit of effort to find the right skill for you.
The main place to research new skills is on the Amazon website where you can see more details about the skill functionality and customer reviews. In this example we’re interested in things related to wellbeing.
You can also browse the skills in the Alexa app on your mobile phone or tablet.
As stated the search functionality on the Amazon Alexa site is not great and there is a very wide range of quality when it comes to skills because they are built by developers independent from Amazon. The checks that Amazon perform before a skill can be published in their store only ensure that no contractual rules are broken and at a basic level the skill “works”. Amazon do not look at the skill design or functionality. So what should you look for in a skill listing?
Note that there will be some gems of skills that don’t have the above and given that most skill are free you might want to try them out to see what you think. Many developers are individuals with a passion for coding and problem solving and won’t have the resources to market their skill in the same way as a bigger brand name. If you do find any gems, we’d love for you to share them with us!
The first time you want to use a skill you need to say “Alexa, open Skill Name” or “Alexa, launch Skill Name”. On subsequent interactions you can say something like “Alexa, ask Skill Name for skill action”.
You can enable skills from the Alexa app on your smart phone or tablet.
You can also enable skills from the Amazon Alexa Skill Store website.
There should be instructions on the skill page to help you get started. Near the top of the listing there will be some command examples to open and use the skill.
Good skills will have an intuitive conversational design to make it easy for the user to interact with. You should find that many of the commands that you are used to using with the in-built Alexa functionality will work when you are interacting with a skill. For example being able to say “Alexa, next” or Alexa, repeat”.
For further tips on using Amazon Alexa and helping you to get familiar with the features we’ve also prepared a Quick Tips guide. We have also prepared a more detailed guide on how to place video calls via Amazon Alexa.
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