Less than a year after Amazon introduced its first Alexa smart connected speaker in 2014, programmers were able to add their own voice-controlled apps to the device. The apps, or “skills” in Amazon’s parlance, could do everything from tell knock-knock jokes to offer the latest price of Bitcoin.
On Thursday, Amazon finally opened up the world of Alexa skills to ordinary customers, albeit in a limited manner. Now anyone with an Echo speaker or Spot clock can teach Alexa some new tricks using Amazon’s “blueprints,” or prewritten types of apps that can have customized content supplied by customers–no computer coding necessary. Many are oriented towards kids. Here are a few examples of how you can use the blueprints to create (mostly) useful skills for your Alexa-enabled devices.
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1. Help study with vocal “flashcards”
Have kids studying for a biology quiz? Or maybe you’re getting ready to take the bar exam. The flashcards blueprint lets you create a list of questions and answers (and hints, if you want). Then Alexa can offer the quiz, either in “review mode,” revealing both questions and answers, or in “test mode,” asking the questions and confirming whether the answers are correct. Alexa even has encouraging messages to throw in, like, “Great job studying hard. You’re going to ace this test,” which can also be customized.
2. Leave important information for the babysitter
You can certainly go the old-fashioned route, leaving a written list of important items and emergency contacts for the babysitter. But why not impress your millennial childminder with an Alexa-enabled babysitter helper app. The babysitter blueprint has places to add items like a child’s schedule, allergies, emergency contacts, and answers to basic questions like, “where are the diapers?” There’s also a blueprint for the petsitter.
3. Cheer up family members with the compliments skill
Pretty straightforward: Fill in the blueprint with a list of compliments. Amazon offers a few canned phrases, such as, “You light up the room,” but you can do better. Then name the skill, which will trigger Alexa to offer one of the compliments. Not so into complimenting your little brother? There’s a similar blueprint to write a burns skill.
4. Play a game of modern MadLibs with the story skill
The blueprints include a variety of genre stories, like a fairy tale about a magical princess or the story of an alien invasion, that require listeners to offer names and other bits (such as a favorite dessert) that Alexa incorporates. But the entire text of the stories can be customized, tweaked, or wholesale rewritten.
5. Test party guests with a trivia quiz about the birthday boy or girl
Another one for the kids, the blueprints include a quiz skill to work at a birthday party by asking trivia questions about the guest of honor. In addition to reading the questions, the skill lets the birthday celebrant rate the answers and offer sound effects (crowd cheers, annoying buzzers and the like) based on the rating.