Developers of Alexa skills now have a way to make money off their offerings.
Alexa skills can now include money-making features, according to The Verge. If you use Alexa skills, you have probably noticed they’re all free. This is a refreshing change of pace from other services, like app stores on phones that can offer apps for large amounts of money. With Alexa’s available skills, you never have to worry about whether a skill you’ve found is going to end up costing you.
But now the developers of these skills do have some small ways to make money. The Verge notes that now skills can offer one in-skill purchase. This means they can have extra content or special features available for a cost. This can be a one-time fee or a subscription that continues. Compared to many apps, having one in-skill purchase is still a nice change of pace, since so many apps lock feature after feature behind a pay wall.
Developers can also now allow users of their skills to buy items. With Alexa, users could already use their voices to buy products from Amazon. But now they’ll be able to ask to buy things within other skills. This new feature will make use of Amazon Pay, letting developers offer a way to order through the skill. The Verge mentions that TGI Fridays and 1-800-Flowers are already making use of this new feature. With these skills, you can now directly place orders for the companies’ products.
While the skills themselves are still free (and there seem to be no plans to change this in the near future), adding a way for developers to make money through in-skill purchases and the use of Amazon Pay could end up being a big change. It could make Alexa skills seem more appealing to other developers who have yet to bring their ideas to the Alexa skill format. It may also make ordering items from companies other than Amazon much easier. Keep watch on Alexa’s skills to see which ones begin making use of these new capabilities.
Amazon has now given Echo users a new way to make Alexa even more personalized. Skill Blueprints, added this past week, allow Alexa users to program their own customized skills for personal use.
Amazon announced the new ability for Alexa on their Alexa blog last week. Skill Blueprints is a feature that makes it easy to further personalize an Alexa device by creating your own trigger phrases and setting Alexa’s response, building your own trivia game, making personalized stories, and more.
On the Alexa Blueprints website, the feature is explained and the many different Skill templates are described. After logging in to the Amazon account that’s connected to your Alexa device, you can choose from a template and customize your personal skill. These skills are only available on your Alexa devices and aren’t publicly published. You can also have as many Skill Blueprints as you want.
Alexa is known for having some silly quips and fun easter eggs when she’s asked the right phrase. Now you can make your own fun responses with the Q & A Blueprint. You can set up a phrase like “Who’s the best basketball player?” and program Alexa to respond however you’d like. You can also have fun with other Blueprints like the one that “roasts” your guests with custom insults. There’s Family Jokes, which lets you put in your own jokes, as well as Compliments, Trivia, Inspirations (with your favorite quotes), and much more.
Plus you can use these Blueprints to make your smart home easier to navigate. You can use the Pet Sitter Blueprint to enter all the information someone might need to care for your pet (like where to find the food, how often to feed your pet, who to call in an emergency, etc.). And Houseguest has you enter information about staying in your home (and the nearby area) so that if someone is house sitting or visiting, they don’t have to keep texting you with questions about where to find extra paper towels or how to turn on the dishwasher.
There are many other Blueprints available, as well. In fact, there are currently 21 different Blueprints to choose from. Whenever you’ve created a Blueprint, you can go back to it and edit it whenever you want. Amazon’s blog says that your newly-created skills show up on your Alexa devices “instantly,” though it’s important to note that it takes a moment or two for the skills to actually be created. (The Blueprints website asks you to wait as the skill is actually finalized and ready to use—this seems to typically take less than a minute.)
Alexa Skill Blueprints are now available for use in the US. For more information, take a look at the Alexa Blueprints website.
If you use Fire TV, you may have noticed you no longer have access to YouTube. The Verge reports that YouTube has now been deactivated on the device.
Fire TV is Amazon’s streaming device offering. It’s a small device that plugs into a TV and allows users to stream channels or use apps and Alexa skills. With a separate Alexa device or with the voice remote, users can control their TV by voice. Back in July, Business Insider noted that Amazon Fire TV had 35.8 million monthly users. Now all of those users will have to use a browser to watch YouTube on their TVs.
The removal of YouTube from Fire TV stems from an issue going all the way back to September. At that point, Google suddenly took YouTube off of Amazon’s Echo Show device. After the removal, Google said that they had never fully worked out the pairing before YouTube was made available on the Echo Show. Google said the version of YouTube on the Show created “a broken user experience,” likely referring to the fact that many key features were missing in this version of YouTube. Eventually, YouTube reappeared on the device.
Then earlier this month, Google pulled YouTube from the Echo Show once again. TechCrunch reports that Google didn’t know YouTube was being reactivated on the device. Google wasn’t involved in the process of creating this version of the YouTube app either, and they say it violates their Terms of Service. Once they pulled it from the Echo Show, they announced they would be removing it from Fire TV, as well. The original claim was that it would be removed on January 1st, 2018.
Instead, it was pulled on December 28th, days before it was meant to be removed. The Verge notes that we don’t yet know who took it down early. In any case, Fire TV users hoping for one last hurrah with the voice-controlled version of YouTube have now missed their shot. There don’t seem to be any current plans for reactivating YouTube on Amazon’s devices.
If you have an Echo, Echo Dot, Kindle, Echo Show, or any other Alexa-capable device, you probably already know that there are a lot of different ways you can take advantage of Alexa’s capabilities. With products like the Echo Dot making Alexa more and more easily available, and with the recent rumors about the upcoming Fire TV devices, it’s a good time to look into some of the fun, interesting, and downright useful skills that can be enabled on your Alexa devices. Alexa can answer some basic questions and say (or sing) a lot of funny things, but these skills will make you even more happy to have Alexa as your friend.
Bird Song lets you ask to hear certain birds, ask for a random bird, and ask to play a game to identify bird songs. Bird Song currently has 4.7 out of 5 stars in the Alexa app.
Curiosity offers interesting pieces of information on many different subjects. Asking Alexa to “open Curiosity” prompts the skill to offer two random categories you can choose from. After you answer, Curiosity will tell you something interesting about that subject. Curiosity currently has 4 out of 5 stars in the Alexa app.
Ingredient Sub helps people in the kitchen by providing helpful tips for ingredient replacements. If you get halfway through a recipe and suddenly realize you’re out of eggs, you can ask Ingredient Sub, “What can I substitute for eggs?” Ingredient Sub will list options you can choose from. Ingredient Sub currently has 3.7 out of 5 stars in the Alexa app.
Jeopardy! is just what one might expect, and it’s a lot of fun. Every weekday, the Jeopardy! skill provides an extra clue from each of the day’s different categories. The skill is complete with the sounds you know from watching the show. The skill lets you know how you did that day, and it also tells you how you’ve fared over the week. Jeopardy! currently has 3.4 out of 5 stars in the Alexa app.
Meditation Timer offers three different soothing sounds that are helpful for meditation. After you open the skill, you can tell Meditation Timer how long you would like to meditate. A gong will sound, and one of the three sounds will begin to play. If you want to switch to a different sound, you can say, “Play next.” The three available sounds are forest, rain, and surf. Meditation Timer currently has 4.1 out of 5 stars in the Alexa app.
NASA Mars gives you a chance to find out what’s going on with Mars and listen to rover updates. You can ask general questions about Mars, and you can ask what the rover is currently up to. NASA Mars currently has 4.4 out of 5 stars in the Alexa app.
Radio Mystery Theater
Radio Mystery Theater is one of many skills created by Appbly.com. This particular skill lets you listen to CBS Radio Mystery Theater dramas from back in the day. There are many episodes to choose from, so you’ll have plenty of entertainment. (You might also check out other similar skills like Radio Dimension X and Radio Suspense.) Radio Mystery Theater currently has 4.2 out of 5 stars in the Alexa app.
Weather Sky is a great way to get more out of your weather reports. Weather Sky can give you a very detailed report for your current location or any other location in the US. You can also ask for past and future weather information, and a fun little addition is the ability to “change the weather” by asking for weather like rain or wind (unfortunately, it does not yet have the capability to actually change the weather, just play some sounds, but I can only assume the technology will get there someday). Weather Sky currently has 3.8 out of 5 stars in the Alexa app.
Yes Sire is an intriguing and fun adventure game you can play just by enabling the skill. You play as a medieval lord who is given a series of questions that determine your success throughout the game. You have to think carefully about your choices when presented with different scenarios. If you are careful in your strategy, you will do well, but if you aren’t paying close enough attention, you won’t last long in the game. Yes Sire currently has 4.9 out of 5 stars in the Alexa App.
…and much more
There are also plenty of specific skills run by different companies that let you do things like check your credit card balance (skills like Amex and Capital One, among others), call a ride (Lyft and Uber), and order food (like Domino’s or Starbucks Reorder). You can also often find your own local news station available to add to your news briefing. Whatever your interests, there’s a growing number of skills available.