For those who also have Cortana/Siri/Google and Echo which one is most useful?
But we just had a newborn, so I built a custom skill for us to serve as log of our son's activities. So our primary use is now that.
The first custom skill I wrote that calls out to an API to do CNAM (caller ID) lookups. So when I get calls from a weird number, I can quickly get the corresponding name (if there is one). This was mainly an exercise to see how Alexa/Echo would pronounce various names and abbreviations.
The hands free of the echo is especially useful for that. Good hacking, and congrats on being clearheaded enough with a newborn to build it, I don't think I felt like I came up for air until the 9 month mark and the "high level" part of my brain didn't feel like it kicked in again until after mines first birthday.
And honestly, it's also to give parents a small measure of control over what's going on. When you're a new parent, it's a confusing and difficult time, and so recording what happens lets you feel in some way like you've got a handle on things. You may be exhausted and confused, but as you write your numbers down in a little book, life goes on. It's reassuring.
AFAIK Amazon only sells the Echo in the US, and a lot of the functionality is locked to the US, this makes it unusable for certain tasks (like dealing with time, dates, calendars and alarms).
The Echo won't let you change it's timezone to an Australian one (hacks like setting a timezone to one of the US military bases around the world no longer work).
So with the Echo assuming I'm living somewhere in the US, what do I use it for?
- Telling the time. Having said all the above, I do use it for telling the time, but I need to say "Alexa, what's the time in Sydney Australia?"
- Finding out the weather "Alexa, What's the weather like in
- Controlling the Lights. "Alexa turn on the lights?"
- Reporting Revenue from Shopify (I've built a custom app) "Alexa, ask Shopify what were the sales?"
I'd love to hear more from others outside the US as to how they use their Echo!
Which smart lights are you using?
The kitchen is the perfect spot for it because my phone and tablet are usually in the living room or on their chargers in my bedroom, and Siri doesn't work anywhere near as well in a big, noisy area like a kitchen. The microphone is so much more accurate and reliable than the Apple Watch on my wrist (which doesn't say much, because the Watch is so bad at this sort of thing.)
The TV use is pretty neat since it takes so many clicks to navigate those menus. I'm hoping the echo will integrate natively with Apple TV or Fire TV, it would be sweet to be able to say "Alexa, play the latest Game of Thrones" and have it just start.
I think I could do volume control by simulating a bulb that supports brightness but I haven't tried that yet.
It could be so much simpler, they really overcomplicated it
Main use cases:
* Managing my shopping list (not necessarily for ordering on Amazon) while I'm in the kitchen and/or cooking
* Calendar/Newsflash/Weather in the morning
* Timer for cooking/workouts
* Ordering an Uber (main reason why I use primarily Uber vs. Lyft because there's no Lyft skill right now)
* Switching lights on/off (WeMo)
Would use it more if there would be (good/easy to use) skills:
* Public transportation arrival/departure times
* Controlling my Sonos (I know the workaround but a better integration would be awesome)
Lately, I recognize that this is the leading edge of another shift in how we interface with computing. (Chat bot assistants/voice interfaces). I also missed the fact that you can extend Alexa and customize it by adding skills or writing your own skills. So I'm seriously considering getting one and playing with it, to stay in tune with the way our society is moving.
When the first iphone came on, I also recognized it as a shift. However, I stubbornly stuck with my feature phone for years. There was the same paranoia of being tracked everywhere with the iphone, and I felt uncomfortable about it. I eventually got an ipod touch, just so I could try it out. It wasn't until my feature phone was lost for good that I took the step to get an iphone, back in 2012. Very quickly, what I used to sit, fixated in front of my computer, I compacted into my phone. I watched how it shifted and changed the way I lived my life -- but also, mindfully decided what I want and what I didn't want. (I installed many instant messenger apps and got rid of messenging apps on my laptop, except for Slack -- but to this day, I don't have Facebook on my phone because I don't want to get sucked into it on the phone).
Around that time, I was entering a new phase in my life, one that involved dropping a lot of the paranoia and junk in my head. So now, I recognized that same reaction with the Echo. It'll be interesting to give this a try.
The echo does allow you to see a history of all previous recordings sent to Amazon (Settings > History), along with the actual voice samples that were sent.
Now granted, I don't think you'd be able to ensure that all packets that were sent corresponded to what is displayed there, but you can estimate it based on the sizes of packets and maximum data that could be sent. Would a proxy server that you controlled resolve your concerns? Or is it more "I don't know what's happening on the backend"?
Wow, that makes it even more creepy. Imagine e.g. your significant other accessing this log and finding things they aren't supposed to find.
I personally find the log to be very useful and interesting (as well as a free annotation source for my own projects).
I guess the main take away from this thread is that some people are just going to be creeped out by this sort of technology. And that's okay.
Also in these scenarios, all of these devices (Alexa, Android, iPhone) are only locally listening for a wake word, usually using dedicated hardware to detect it. Until you say the wake word, nothing you say is being saved or sent to the network. You can verify this by monitoring your network.
It's been the topic of much discussion that it can probably be listened to at-will by some 3-letter agencies.
It probably isn't, though, and there's almost certainly not a preserved history unless it's on.
This applies to the whole IoT, but doubly so for always-on voice gizmos. e.g. Go WAN when you say "Internet search flights ..." or "google ..." otherwise stay local.
I'd pay more for that. I'm almost ready to conclude IoT is not going to be for me.
Because an always-on Amazon device in my home would be creepy.
Definitely one to watch.
I personally don't think we can stop the tide of devices like this. I'm very selective about which devices & services I choose to partake in.
> gizmo that I can't audit
This is where I believe we can have some potential (if minimal) input. Granted, once it's in 'the cloud' we've lost all control, but at a minimum I think we're going to continue to see a rise in tooling to be able to critically assess the devices we have in our lives.
As to crazy, I'm more of the "to each his own."
I don't know why that comment made me think that, but it casts the Echo in a much less wholesome light for some reason. I suppose it's because once people start to humanize it, they will start to bond with it, which means they are less likely to get rid of it. That comes off as just a little ethically dubious to me.
I don't see how the second half of this statement follows the first. There's a big difference between "can" and "will". The Echo doesn't do this. You could make this statement about anything. With a forced OTA update, your phone could become nothing but an advertisement tomorrow morning. That new intern your company hired? They could secretly just be a shill for Microsoft who will try to sell you upgraded office software.
I don't care about the amazon Alexa. I found the bond beautiful. Thats it. :)
My comment is on the beauty of the bond between the user and the machine. Do not read anymore into it or give it negative connotations.
I do think that emotional bonds between humans and machines are fundamently unhealthy, but that's got a long history so it's nothing new (e.g. sailors calling their ships "her").
Is this an emotional bond because the OP said "her", or do you sense that for some other reason? Do you say this only in the context of high technology, the 21st century, or does a person talking about their car "She purrs like a kitten" elicit the same response in you?
Home -> Car -> Work. But I wind up using Echo at home, Siri or OK Google in the car (depending on what I'm doing), and nothing at work.
I use my Echo to play music. I uploaded my music collection to Amazon Music for $25/year and also have some Prime playlists.
I use her to find what day a date is on, like what day is June 16th. (Did this once to double check the end date for something).
I use Echo to check the weather before I leave every morning. I ask the time ALL THE TIME. I use her when I'm cooking for unit conversions. And I've set timers with the Echo quite a few times. I've got one going now actually.
I also got some Philips Hue lights and use Alexa to turn my lights on and off. I want to get a Trackr since it has an Alexa integration so I can find my keys.
I also set up IFTTT and have a trigger for Alexa to call my phone so I can find it when I lose it.
Do I like the Echo? YES. I'm considering giving one as a Christmas present this year.
- Control the lights, TV, AC, or smart device in the house.
- Is anyone in the swimming pool? (I'm processing CCTV cameras)
- Who's home? (Geo-fencing and OpenWRT Wi-Fi data)
- Where is the people in the house? (I'm doing indoor locationing with RSSI signals)
Is fun and I keep adding cool stuff on it.
If you want to follow up the project, I'll be adding it to my blog/portfolio as soon as I release it: http://www.cabada.mx
If you want to see more of it, like videos, images and screenshots, I've got some in that site.
If I have a question which I think a voice assistant could answer, I pick up my phone and use the Google app 100% of the time because it is so much better than Alexa it's not funny. It regularly outperforms my expectations, where Alexa regularly underperforms them.
* Light control through Philips Hue: "Alexa, turn on lamps", "Alexa, dim hallway lights to 50%"
* Assistance when cooking: "Alexa, start a 5 minute timer", "Alexa, how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon?", "Alexa how many grams are in an ounce?"
* Entertainment control through Logitech Harmony Hub & IFTTT: "Alexa, trigger Netflix", "Alexa, trigger FireTV", "Alexa, trigger shutdown"
* Getting ready: "Alexa, how's the weather?", "Alexa, will it rain tomorrow?"
* Easy music controls: "Alexa, play some music", "Alexa, play songs by Imagine Dragons", "Alexa turn it [up|down]"
* Enabling laziness:
* When I wake up but don't want to open my eyes: "Alexa, what time is it?"
* When I'm already in bed and want to close lights, TV, etc...: "Alexa trigger naptime"
* Control colors/scenes on my Hue lights: "Alexa, set the scene to warm", "Alexa, set the scene to variety"
* Use fine-grained controls on my TV and devices: "Alexa, play Daredevil on Netflix", "Alexa, turn down the TV volume by 5"
My 4 year-old loves it. He learned to count to 100 and got a lot better in understanding higher/lower numbers by playing GTN with Alexa.
It quickly became our favorite pastime when outside; we now turns on who'll be Alexa :)
(ps: unfortunately it's buggy as hell. I'm considering developing a new one, just to fix it)
I only use it for two things:
• Weather and sometimes news in the morning as I'm getting ready.
• As a Spotify player that I can control from my sofa / bed / elsewhere through Spotify Connect, so basically a quasi-Sonos.
Other than that, I haven't really found any good uses for it.
Even if it did have a full library, it nearly always picks terrible, garbage songs from artists when shuffling them. I just told it to shuffle "Foals", and I don't think I've ever heard this song before. I don't like it, whatever it is.
I wrote a Rust library for controlling WeMo devices as well. It's in a rough shape, but it does what I want. I use it for more fine-grained control.
The microphone is really good and I can talk to it from a room over, so it's the sort of thing I can ask it about the weather as I'm walking to the door to put the leash on the dog and not break my stride.
I wish the Amazon shopping list had a better API, because I'd like to use that list for things outside of the Echo app.
It then uses a library to say how long until it is free in a human like way.
You can also ask it to find if any rooms are free in the building, and most importantly if the pool table is in use or not! As well as that, there is even a web cam above the table that counts the balls, and can tell you who is winning!
My only custom use was to write a WOL task that targets my Steam Machine so I can turn it on without leaving the couch. The machine is a frankenstein, so it doesn't have any fancy IR receiver or whatever people typically use to remotely turn on a game console.
1) Lights - all of my lights are on WeMo switches. They turn on automatically at sunrise (note - they're energy-efficient LEDs), and they turn off automatically at 10:30. Whenever I want them on or off outside of this pattern, I use Alexa.
2) Music - I used to use Chromecast Audio on my speakers, but it took so long to connect - get phone, open spotify, find playlist, connect to speakers over network (after realizing phone wasn't on wifi and had to be reconnected), then hitting play. With Echo, I just say "Play <foo> on Spotify" and it works. This functionality is good for mornings when I'm not specific about music, but does not work well when there is a specific album you want to listen to. (Side note - I also use the sleep timer to automatically turn off music if I'm listening to something before sleep).
3) Alarm - I prefer using Echo over my phone to wake up in the morning.
4) Calendar - I listen to my schedule for the day while getting dressed.
Echo on the other hand is awesome and picks up commands way better and knows more answers. My regular use cases are limited to timers, alarms, listening podcasts and dimming lights with Philips Hue.
I wrote my own skill to return arriving bus schedules. It was surprisingly easy with Lambda and I open sourced the code with a tutorial: https://github.com/jorilallo/muni-alexa-skill Disclaimer: code is somewhat sloppy as I wrote it in ~1h based on Amazon's tutorials :)
When it comes to skills, the Alexa app is horrible: very flaky and buggy, clearly Cortana (not native) and there's basically no discovery for skills. There's some great reddit threads where people list good skills.
Of note: for a great hardware product, it has terrible software.
I use it mainly for managing smarthome devices, which is great. I control all the lights with it (Phillips Hue), as well as my AC/heating (Sensibo), remote controls (Harmony), outlets, and just about anything on IFTTT too.
It also manages my timers & alarms (which are also linked to my lighting system), music (great speakers on this thing), to-do list, and is useful for other random tasks you might google, e.g. kitchen measurement conversions.
It's really useful to me as is, but will get a lot better once custom skills are allowed to run in the background. It can also be kind of frustrating when Alexa doesn't hear you properly or do what you want, but yelling "ALEXA, SHUT THE FUCK UP!" and having it work, is quite satisfying.
As to Siri - I use it slightly more:
- tell my wife I'm on my way.
- ask my wife what to buy in the grocery store.
- wake me up tomorrow at 5am
- delete all alarms
To sum up: since I don't use Google much, Echo is mostly useless to me. I can't do much with it, and getting mostly "Sorry I could not understand your question."
I live near a stadium and traffic is heavily affected by it, so you can ask when is the next game to have an idea of how much traffic is going to be ("Alexa, when is the next <team name> game").
Also, weather. "Alexa, weather forecast".
You can connect it with your google calendar. "Alexa, when is my next event".
You can also order a cab from Uber, order a pizza from Domino, and other things.
In alexa.amazon.com there's a section called "Things to try". That can also answer this question.
I also updated a Python script that emulates Belkin Wemo devices so I can control HomeAssistant and various http enabled home automation devices around the house. For anyone interested: https://github.com/n8henrie/Fauxmo
- Play specific radio programs or stations
- Play music I've uploaded or stuff on Prime
- Check weather
- Check upcoming calendar appointments
- Ask for definitions/encyclopedia entries (the logic is good ... I once asked how old Reagan was at the beginning of his first term and got the correct range)
- Checking game times or if a local team is playing that day
- Ask about local traffic conditions
I don't use the shopping list feature. I don't like opening the Alexa app, and my wife and I split shopping duties according to destination store.
I've looked at the IFTTT scripts but did not see any that looked appealing or useful for us.
I would love to see phone/messaging capabilities built into the Echo.
Other than that, lots of use from the kitchen. As a timer, to listen to music, control my Hue lighting....
I also coded up a custom Skill to control my Anova via a little Bluetooth proxy I wrote.
* Weather (do I need a jacket or umbrella?)
* Music (I never used Prime Music before)
* Checking how long until my train arrives. This is by far the most useful application for me; I use it every morning. I bought the Echo so that I could develop a Chicago train app (CTA Tracker), but there seems to be one for every major city now.
I tell it to control my Hue lights, and ask it jokes, and occasionally ask it for the weather - though Dark Sky is a lot better for weather data.
So it's not used a ton really.
"Alexa, what's on my calendar?" (Integrated with Google cal)
"Alexa, how is the commute?"
"Alexa, when do the Warriors play next?"
"Alexa, set an alarm for 7:30pm"
"Alexa, how much wood does a woodchuck chuck?"
It seems to work pretty well for my use cases. With alarms and timers, the accuracy is about 100%. With music, it's maybe 70%.
Sleep music on timer at bedtime.
Traffic conditions before I leave for work .
News while I brush my teeth.