What Are Alexa Skills And What Do They Do?

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Over the last several years, Alexa has changed the way many of us operate our households. You may not be aware of it, but Alexa’s skills are actually responsible for those changes.

You might be just purchasing your first Amazon Echo device. Maybe you’ve had one for a while now, but you haven’t really utilized it to its full potential. Well get excited, because that changes today!

We’re going to cover everything you need to know about Alexa skills in a quick and easy to implement format.

What Is An Alexa Skill?

Alexa Skills refer to the individual capabilities that can be performed by Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. These range from answering questions, to controlling smart home devices and even playing games.

While Alexa has many skills built into her core programming, there are countless skills that will need to be manually activated. Most of those are made by third-party developers.

Oftentimes, these third-party skills will integrate with another app to complete a task. This is where Alexa connects with music services like Spotify, or a smart home device like your Ring Doorbell.

Where To Find Alexa Skills

You can search for Alexa Skills in Amazon’s Skills and Features area on their website which is found here or on the Alexa App.

iOS users can click here to download the Alexa app.

Android users can click here.

Where to find Alexa skills and how to install them

How To Install A Skill For Alexa

Alexa skills are quickly and easily implemented. Follow these steps and you’ll be well on your way.

To access your skills on the Alexa app:

  1. Open your Alexa App
  2. Click “More” at the bottom right-hand corner.
  3. Select “Skills & Games” from the menu.
  4. Select the Magnifying Glass at the top of your screen to search.
  5. Tap the name of the skill you’d like to enable.
  6. Select “Enable To Use

Another way to install a skill in Alexa is by giving voice commands like “Alexa, enable (skill name)”. If you’re not sure what skill you want to use, you can always ask Alexa to recommend some skills. A word of caution – the list is exhaustive, with over 100,000 options to choose from!

Are Alexa Skills Free?

Alexa Skills are completely free to enable, but some may require a service subscription to use. Others may be free for basic features with an option for premium service.

An example of the latter would be Spotify. With the Spotify skill, you can listen to playlists and stations for free, but you’ll need to pay for Spotify Premium if you want to listen to a specific song.

As long as you have an Amazon account, though, you can access a multitude of skills for free. Don’t worry, there aren’t any hidden fees associated with enabling a skill and it will be blatantly apparent if any service is trying to charge you to use their skill.

For more on this check out our article – Are Alexa Skills Free? Here’s The Deal…

You Might Need To Login To Use Your Skill

Depending on the skill you’re enabling, you may need to login to a third party app to link it with Alexa. For instance, while using a music streaming service like Pandora, you will need to log in to your Pandora account from within your Alexa App. Likewise, if you want to control the smart lighting of your home, you’ll need to connect your Phillips Hue or any other smart lightbulb app to Alexa to turn them on/off with your voice. 

When you enable apps like this, Alexa will prompt you to log in.

What Are Some Good Alexa Skills?

With plenty of options to choose from, Alexa skills are developed by people and organizations to perform a variety of tasks. It’s difficult to rank the “best” skills as everyone’s needs are unique and it’s largely about preference. That being said, let’s start with a small array of extremely useful and widely popular skills.

Here are a few of our favorites to breathe life into your devices:

  • Google Calendar – Alexa integrates seamlessly with your Google Calendar. Just say “Alexa, add an event to my calendar.” Alexa will then prompt you for any additional information such as the event title, time and day of the event. There are several other calendar integrations if you aren’t a Google Calendar user, so fret not!
  • Alexa Shopping List – The shopping list skill is already built into Alexa, so you shouldn’t have to enable this. Just say, “Alexa, add milk to my shopping list.” But, wait! It gets better. You can use the built-in bar code scanner to automatically add items from your kitchen pantry.
  • Ted Talks – If you spend your entire workday conversing with stupid people, then I have just the fix for you. Come home to a Ted Talk while you’re making dinner. You’ll be intellectually reprogrammed in a matter of 20 minutes.
  • ESPN – Guys, this is how you catch up with your sports highlights on the go. Enable the ESPN skill and have Alexa pump you full of everything you missed the day before while you’re getting ready for work. It isn’t the same as courtside tickets, but it will get the job done.
  • Spotify – Have we mentioned Spotify? Ask Alexa to play your favorite artists or Spotify playlists while you’re getting things done. While this is a great source of music, there are also plenty of others to choose from.

Check out an in depth look at helpful skills – What Can Alexa Do? Amazon Echo Skills, Tips and Tricks

Alexa Skills For Kids

Alexa can be extremely useful for families with kids! While she can’t yet change diapers, you can still use Alexa to provide entertainment and educational content your kids will love. Here are some of the best Alexa Skills for Kids:

  • Amazon Story Time – “Alexa, tell me a bedtime story.” Ideally, you’d spend as much time as your child would like telling bedtime stories. Unfortunately, as adults, we often have to fill a lot of roles at the same time. For those times, your kids will enjoy the novelty of having Alexa read them a bedtime story.
  • Science Buddy – This is a fun way to get those video game polluted brains flowing in the right direction. Science Buddy quizzes kids on topics like biology, physics, energy and Earth science. Each quiz round will include 10 multiple-choice questions.
  • Spelling Bee – How about a fantastic outlet for sibling rivalry? Say, “Alexa play the Spelling Bee.” You’ll be given 3 different skill level options: Easy, Medium and Hard. I’m embarrassed to say that after playing the Hard level, it seems that spell check will continue to serve me well.
  • The Magic Door – Do you remember “Choose Your Own Adventure” books? Is that still a thing? Alright, picture that… but Alexa is telling you the story. When you get to certain points in the story, you have to choose what the main character does when faced with a decision. Your choice will affect how the rest of the story plays out.

Developing Your Own Skills For Alexa

To make the voice assistant more personal, Amazon allows users to build their skills. They’ve even set up a platform that allows any average joe to develop their own. Through the Amazon Skills Blueprints, you can build games, quizzes, and even compile information for chore charts and roommate agreements.

Start by going over to their Skill Blueprints page (found here). Once you arrive, you can browse their templates (or blueprints as they’re referred to).

Once you choose the type of blueprint you’d like to work off of, you’ll be walked through a few very simple steps. Once complete, you can share them with others as well.

By building skills that suit your own needs, you can truly make Alexa work for you.

Conclusion

Basically, everything Alexa does is a Skill. When you enable a new skill, you’re essentially teaching Alexa how to complete a specific task. Your options are many and quickly multiplying.

Whether you’re perusing the wide range of available Alexa Skill options or building your own skill to suit your personal needs, you’ll not be short of improvements to integrate into your household.