Alexa Skills Can Now Make Money

Alexa Skills Can Now Make Money

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.

Alexa Has New Alien-Themed Game, Is Getting Major Update

Alexa Has New Alien-Themed Game, Is Getting Major Update

Alexa has gotten an interesting new addition, and in the near future the smart assistant may also be able to continue a discussion without using a wake word.

To correspond with what’s known as ‘Alien Day,’ Alexa has a new skill called Offworld Colony Simulator. According to Fortune, you can use the skill on all devices that have Alexa. The skill is a game that’s similar to roleplaying games and that uses voice prompts and responses to challenge you to get away from a Xenomorph. There have been other voice-based RPGs available on Alexa (like The Magic Door). This one, though, is for sci-fi and Alien lovers.

There’s also news that Alexa may soon gain some more useful abilities. TechCrunch reports that Alexa users will be able to talk with Alexa more naturally and have Alexa remember certain things they choose.

Currently, when you want to use Alexa, you have to use a wake word (like “Alexa” or “Echo”). But in the future, Alexa will not always need you to use the wake word when you’re asking follow-up questions. So if you ask a question and then need more information, you won’t have to wake Alexa up all over again and form a complete new question. This will make conversations with Alexa flow more smoothly and be a little easier to manage.

As TechCrunch notes, you’ll also be able to ask Alexa to remember things. You can ask her to remember peoples’ birthdays or other important pieces of information. Then you’ll be able to ask her about that information in the future and retrieve it easily.

All of this is meant to give Alexa a more expansive and useful memory. It will make her more personal to each user’s account and it will make conversations with her feel a step closer to a conversation with a human (though, of course, we’re not fully there yet).

Offworld Colony Simulator is available to play now, while Alexa’s new memory updates are coming soon (TechCrunch says there’s not yet a launch date).

New Alexa Skill Blueprints Offer Further Customization

New Alexa Skill Blueprints Offer Further Customization

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.

Amazon in the News

Amazon in the News

As is often the case, Amazon has appeared in the news quite a bit recently. Much of their recent news has had to do with updates to their devices, though their services have been updated, as well. Specifically, their Fire tablets, Echo speakers, and Amazon Key delivery service have seen some changes. Here’s a rundown of what you might have missed!

Fire 7 and HD 8 users can now access Alexa hands-free

Users of Amazon’s current Fire 7 and Fire HD 8 will now have easier access to Alexa. Older devices can already use Alexa by pressing a specific area on their screen, but CNET is reporting that these newer models of the Fire tablet won’t need to be tapped on to wake Alexa. If the tablet’s screen is on or if it’s charging, you’ll be able to wake Alexa. This adds a little convenience, making Alexa a hands-free helper on certain tablets.

You can now have every Echo in your home repeat audio messages

If you have multiple Echo devices in your home, you may appreciate Amazon’s recent update. Mashable is reporting that you can now broadcast from one Echo device to all of your others. You simply have to use one of the triggers, including “Alexa, tell everyone to […]” “Alexa, announce […]” or “Alexa, broadcast […]” and then every other Echo device will announce what you’ve said. Even if you only have one Echo, this could be useful, because you can trigger an announcement through the Alexa app on your phone or tablet.

Fire parental controls can now be changed remotely

If you have kids who use an Amazon tablet with FreeTime, you no longer have to adjust settings on the tablet itself. The Verge has reported that Amazon now has a Parent Dashboard that allows people to change parental controls from a computer or phone. You can also use this feature to check up on what your kids are doing, taking a look at what apps they’ve been using, looking at their activity, and more. The Verge also mentions this is only available for parents whose children are using the kid-oriented versions of Amazon’s Fire tablets.

More smart locks will now work with Amazon’s delivery service

If you use Amazon Key (or are thinking about using it), you now have more options and features. According to Digital Trends, there are now five more smart locks you can use with Amazon Key, giving your more choices with the service. You may remember hearing about Amazon Key—it’s Amazon’s delivery service that has their delivery drivers bring your packages inside by using your installed smart lock. Digital Trends also notes that Amazon has updated their service to include video footage of people who enter or leave homes using the smart locks.

Smart Assistant Updates

Smart Assistant Updates

A number of different updates about smart assistants and smart speakers have been announced recently (including current and upcoming updates). Google, Amazon, and Facebook have all provided updates on their smart assistant plans. Here’s some of what you might have missed this week!

Google Home now lets you play through Bluetooth speakers

When comparing smart speakers (as I did recently; read about it in my article from last month), people typically take a closer look at the smaller, less expensive versions of the products. For instance, the Amazon Echo has the Echo Dot and the Google Home has the Google Home Mini. One of the things that set the Echo Dot apart from the Home Mini was that the Echo Dot could connect to other Bluetooth speakers. This meant that the less amazing speakers in the Echo Dot weren’t a deal-breaker, because the Dot could be connected to a better Bluetooth sound system.

Now the Home Mini can also improve its sound. The Verge is reporting that the smaller version of Google’s smart speaker can now connect to Bluetooth speakers. Previously, the Home Mini had a lot of great features but had the drawback of featuring unimpressive sound. Now that it can do what the Dot was already able to do, it’s even more of a competitor. If you already have a nice Bluetooth speaker, you no longer need to worry about the Google Home Mini’s sound quality.

Amazon’s Alexa plans to integrate more with your home products

Amazon has now announced their plans for more upcoming devices with Alexa built in. In their post this past week, Amazon detailed three upcoming products that will have Alexa enabled. These “white-box solutions” are part of Amazon’s plan to be more fully integrated into homes.

One product stands out in particular. The Lamp Speaker from Adition mostly looks like the typical smart speaker from Amazon: it’s a tall cylinder. However, it’s also a lamp. This means even typical household devices, like light sources, will soon be able to respond to voice commands and perform the Alexa capabilities we’re used to.

Facebook’s upcoming smart speaker announcement pushed back

You may remember the news at the beginning of this year about Facebook’s planned smart speaker. As I wrote in my article, Facebook has been planning to release a smart speaker currently referred to as ‘Portal.’ The smart system is supposed to include cameras and a screen for video chatting, and the focus is on social connection.

However, The Verge has reported that Facebook’s planned announcement about the smart device has been stalled. According to most reports on this postponement, it’s likely due to Facebook’s current data scandal fallout and its negative connection to user data and privacy.

Apps & Smart Devices for Visual Impairment

Apps & Smart Devices for Visual Impairment

For many in the world of technology, improving lives has been a primary goal. As technology advances, there are more opportunities for people with disabilities to gain access to helpful devices, software, and services.

Recently, The Verge reported on the development of smart glasses that could help with visual impairment. With these smart glasses, someone could look at text and have that text read out loud to them. Smart glasses that could help with visual impairment have been discussed for some time, and these glasses could be another step in the right direction. Unfortunately, they’re not yet available. However, it goes to show that some tech companies are making a point to develop products for all.

Though these smart glasses aren’t really available yet, there are other ways to use current tech. One way people with visual impairment can make their lives a little easier is with the use of certain apps. More and more apps are being developed with the sole purpose of helping people who are blind or who have other difficulties with their vision.

Another area of tech that can be helpful for people with visual impairment is one that has been rapidly growing for years—smart devices, including smart speakers and devices that can be paired with them. With a smart speaker, a person who is blind can ask their smart assistant to read them the news, tell them the weather, get answers to questions, and more. They can also connect other devices, so they can ask the assistant to do things like adjust the thermostat or turn off a fan.

There are many different levels of visual impairment. Being visually impaired doesn’t necessarily mean someone is completely blind in the way you might think. There are varying degrees of visual impairment. Because of this, some people may want or need to use different tech than others. And there are so many different apps and products out there it might be difficult to even know what’s available.

What other technology is available?

This article is focusing specifically on apps and smart devices. However, there is plenty of tech that’s typically used by people with visual impairment. Here are just a few:

  • Screen readers (including touch screen readers)
  • Magnification software
  • Braille devices (like braille printers)
  • Text-to-speech software

Because there’s such a wide range of tech, this article will focus on some of the technology that is rapidly growing and offering many different options. New apps are being developed on a regular basis, and smart devices are getting better and better. So for this article, I’ll be skipping the other options listed above.

Apps

There are many different apps available to choose from. Some apps may be familiar, as they’re wildly popular and have become staples. However, some may be new or offer even better features than an app you already have. Here are some helpful apps!

  • Accessible Editor Talkback Pro (Android): This app works with Talkback, the service built into Android phones. It lets people read and edit documents, texts, Facebook content, and more.
  • Actiview Movie Access (iOS): This app helps people with visual impairment while they’re in the movie theater. While at the movies, you can choose which movie you’re watching and get audio description, louder audio, and much more.
  • Aipoly Vision (Android & iOS): This app is meant to help people identify what’s around them. Using your camera, it can be pointed at objects which it will identify out loud. It can work on objects, animals, colors, text, and more.
  • Arianna Navigation (iOS): Arianna is an app that works by interacting with your modified surroundings. After placing different-colored paths on your floors (with paint or tape), the app can use these paths to let people move around their home easily. It also works in other settings by using its navigation service.
  • Be My Eyes (Android & iOS): This app helps people with visual impairment identify objects and get help with their surroundings. People can use their camera to connect live with a volunteer. They can show the volunteer what they need help with (like identifying something) and the volunteer can give them the help they need.
  • Eyes-Free Fitness (iOS): With this app, people can maintain good health by keeping up with their exercise. Workouts are clearly described, making them easy to follow just by listening.
  • KNFB Reader (Android & iOS): This app lets people take photos of documents and have them read out loud. It can also connect with a braille display. There is a free trial, but after the trial ends, it will need to be purchased.
  • Nearby Explorer (iOS): This is a GPS app that more clearly describes surroundings. It has a map and can give directions, but it can also read out street signs and places that are nearby.
  • Seeing AI (iOS): Seeing AI is a Microsoft app that helps describe objects and surroundings. It can read text out loud, recognize peoples’ faces, describe scenes, recognize money, and describe photos, plus more.
  • TapTapSee (Android & iOS): This app is another intended to describe objects. After taking a photo, a description of what’s in the photo will be spoken out loud (using TalkBack or VoiceOver, depending on your device).
  • Voice Dream Reader (Android & iOS): This app is a customizable way to have documents, books, and other content read out loud. It can read from many different sources, including ebooks and PDFs, and people can choose from different voices, speeds, and more.

Smart devices

Smart devices are a great way for people with visual impairment to perform daily tasks more easily. Smart speakers have many helpful features built right in, and there are even more skills (or services) that can be added. And other smart devices, like smart bulbs and smart thermostats, can also be controlled easily. Here’s a rundown of some of the options in the world of smart devices!

Smart speakers

There are many different smart speakers on the market today. The options just keep growing. Smart speakers are convenient for anyone with an internet connection, but they can be especially helpful for someone with visual impairment. Four of the most popular choices are as follows:

  • Amazon Echo (and Echo Dot)—Amazon’s smart speakers are wildly popular. They use the voice assistant Alexa. They can perform all of the basic functions you would expect, like get the weather, find answers to your questions, and read you the news.
    You can also enable many other skills, as the skills store is fairly expansive. You can customize your news (your daily briefing) by enabling skills from other news sources. You can also find skills for many smart device companies, like WeMo and Nest. And there are plenty of other useful skills, as well as skills for entertainment and fun.
    The original Echo is a larger (and more expensive) device. The Echo Dot is a smaller, more inexpensive option. The only real difference of note is that the Echo Dot’s speaker is not as nice as the original Echo. If you want better sound quality (for music purposes), the Echo performs better than the Dot. Otherwise, though, the Dot is a great choice for a smart speaker, and it can even be connected to a different speaker if you really want better sound quality.
  • Google Home (and Home Mini)—Google’s smart speakers are also strong contenders. These devices use Google Assistant, which can also be found on many phones. It can do everything you’d expect, like provide the news, weather, and answers to whatever questions you have.
    There are also many third-party services that come with the Home or Home Mini. There are services for smart device companies, like Nest and Philips Hue. You can also hail a ride with Uber and order a pizza from Domino’s. There are also plenty of games and other entertainment options.
    Like the Echo and Echo Dot, the Home and Home Mini differ in size and shape. The Home is larger than the Home Mini, and it’s closer to a tube-shape, while the Mini is a small, slightly flat circle. Also like the Echo devices, the larger and more expensive device has better sound quality than the smaller cheaper option. You can connect the Home Mini with Chromecast, so if you want better sound quality for music, that’s a possibility. One thing both speakers do have in common is the ability to recognize different voices and perform tasks based on who’s requesting them. This is a very helpful feature if multiple people will regularly use the device.

These four smart speakers are definitely not the only ones out there. For a much more comprehensive look at available smart speakers, take a look at my article from February!

Household smart devices

There are many smart devices out there that can make daily tasks easier. Here are just a few things you can buy that will allow you to control them with an app or with your voice:

  • Door locks
  • Fridges
  • Lights
  • Security systems
  • Thermostats
  • TVs
  • Wall plugs
  • Washers and dryers

Using any of these devices, someone with visual impairment can likely use their smart speaker to control the device with their voice. If they can’t pair the device with their smart speaker, they can at least control the device with just their phone. This can make things incredibly convenient. Instead of getting up and going to the thermostat, someone can change the temperature with just their voice. For some product suggestions, see my article on the Internet of Things!

As a whole, smart devices can make life much easier for people with visual impairment. There are more new products coming out on a regular basis, and they keep getting better. With a smart speaker, someone can have books read out loud or get the bus schedule. With other smart devices, someone can control their home with their voice or an app. This tech is great for people with visual impairment.

What’s New with Alexa (Including That Creepy Laugh)

What’s New with Alexa (Including That Creepy Laugh)

You’ve likely seen Alexa in the news quite a bit lately, with people reporting that Alexa is just plain creeping them out. Amazon’s smart assistant has been laughing at people randomly, which is of course very strange (and has caused some to wonder if Alexa is becoming sentient).

No worries, though―Amazon has a good explanation for Alexa’s random bursts of laughter. And on top of that strange news, Alexa has also been improved recently for other reasons (aside from trying to keep her from terrifying people in their homes). Here’s an update on what you need to know about Alexa this week.

Amazon explains Alexa’s creepy laughter

As you may have already heard, Alexa has been freaking people out by laughing at random. Amazon has now responded and described their fix. The Verge has reported that Amazon is aware of the problem and working on a way to fix it. Amazon plans to change the way that Alexa is commanded to laugh. Alexa will now be asked if she can laugh instead of being told to. The point of this change is to make it less likely for Alexa to accidentally think she’s been told to laugh, which is seemingly what has been causing her odd laughter.

Alexa’s random laughter has been a hot topic for days, with even Jimmy Kimmel getting in on it and poking fun on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Alexa can now understand your music requests better

Alexa will now be able to play your music by responding to more casual and natural prompts. According to The Verge, you’ll now be able to ask Alexa to play music based on things you’ve listened to in the past. For instance, you can ask to hear music you listened to at a certain point in the past, like if you played a certain playlist a month ago. These prompts only work with Amazon Music, not with other services like Spotify or Pandora.

Alexa Skills Kit sound library now available for developers

Skills developers now have an added tool for creating their skills: the Alexa Skills Kit sound library. Amazon announced in a blog post that the sound library was now available. They note that there are hundreds of sounds available to incorporate into a skill. The blog post also describes how to go about adding these sounds from their 14 different categories.

Alexa Now Works with More Apps on Fire TV

Alexa Now Works with More Apps on Fire TV

Who needs remotes anymore? Now it’s getting easier and easier to control your TV-watching experience with just your voice. Most notably, you can now use Alexa to control more of your video apps on Fire TV!

Fire TV is offered by Amazon and gives TV watchers a way to stream videos through a number of different apps. The Fire TV Amazon page shows apps like Hulu, Netflix, and Sling TV. And Alexa, of course, is Amazon’s smart assistant found on devices like the Echo and Echo Dot. Give Alexa a command and you can complete hands-free tasks.

Alexa was already able to handle some TV controls with Fire TV—specifically, playing videos from the Amazon Prime Video app. You could also control Netflix and HBO Now with your Echo, as well. Users could pair their Echo with their Fire TV and control their videos with their voice.

The newest update expands Alexa’s ability to control video apps. According to the news release, you can now control “Bravo, CBS, Hulu, NBC, SHOWTIME, and Sony PlayStation Vue” with voice commands. For instance, you can ask Alexa to open any of those apps, or you can ask Alexa to play a certain episode from one of those apps. Of course, you also need to make sure you have the most recent update of each of these apps in order for them to work properly with your Echo.

This means that Fire TV’s video apps now work with a pretty decent number of apps, particularly compared to a device like Google Home. Google Home can control some video playback on Chromecast, but it only works with seven “partners” according to their page on Google Home Help. Hulu is not mentioned on their list, and it does not include some other video apps that Alexa can now control, though Google Home’s voice control does work with some video apps that Alexa doesn’t (like Crackle).

If you lose remotes often, don’t like having to rely on a device, or just don’t like having to move more than necessary, this new update will be great. It’s also a good sign, because it could suggest even more voice control options in the future! For more information on Fire TV, check out the Fire TV page.

Tech Spotlight

Tech Spotlight

Each week, I’m naming at least 3 tech products you can find on Amazon and that are worth checking out for yourself. You surely already know you can find a lot of cool different products on Amazon, but sometimes there is just so much that it’s nice to have some specific items pointed out. If you have Amazon Prime, prepare to make good use of your free two-day shipping!

Amazon Echo Dot

You’ve likely heard about the Amazon Echo and its personal assistant, Alexa. The original Echo is a taller device with a really nice speaker. The Echo Dot has the same awesome capabilities as the Echo, but it’s just smaller and has a less impressive speaker. With the Echo Dot, it is assumed you will probably connected it to a nicer sound system, though I should note that the Echo Dot’s speaker is certainly a decent one—it just isn’t as amazing as its taller sibling device. It’s also much cheaper, which is a huge selling point. You can use the Echo Dot to do tons of cool things with just your voice. You can set calendar events, add to a shopping list, ask Alexa questions, check the weather, and much more. You can enable a wide variety of skills to do things like play games, check your credit card statement, or play meditation sounds. The Echo Dot can do a whole lot for such an affordable price. If you don’t mind having a slightly less wonderful speaker than the Echo has, the Echo Dot is a highly recommended smart device.

View the Amazon Echo Dot

Tile Mate & Slim Combo Pack

Do you lose your things? Do you find yourself rushing around to find your keys, or your phone, or your wallet, or—well—any of your possessions? Tile is a great way to take care of this pesky problem. This particular Amazon product has four Tile devices; two of them are the Tile Mate, and two are the Tile Slim. The Tile Mate is a small device that can attach to anything—your purse, your keychain, whatever you want to keep track of. The Tile Slim is a slightly larger but still very thin and small device that you can place in things, like in your wallet, backpack, or whatever else you’re worried about losing track of. If you lose something that has a Tile in or on it, you can use your phone to make the Tile ring, and you can also see where Tile last recorded the item being. Tile devices are only supposed to need charging about once a year, so you don’t have to worry about them dying. It also has a convenient feature that helps you find your phone—you can use your Tile device you make your phone ring if you’ve lost it. If you or someone you know habitually loses things, or if you have very important items that you want to keep careful track of, Tile is a good choice.

View the Tile Mate & Slim Combo Pack

Sphero 2.0

Sphero 2.0 is called an “App-Controlled Robot Ball,” and it is exactly that. Sphero is a ball that you can use a device to control it and make it do all sorts of interesting things. It can move very quickly, and it can keep working for more than an hour before it needs to be charged again. You can make obstacle courses (Sphero comes with two ramps), program a course into your phone and watch the Sphero follow the course, and even install games on it. These games are twists on well-known table-top games—their product description mentions “Pass the Sphero,” which is like Hot Potato, and it mentions there are more than 30 apps you can get for it. It has a number of augmented reality games, as well. It’s also meant to be educational, as it’s able to teach about a number of subjects. You might not think you need a robot ball, but Sphero 2.0 is able to do quite a bit and is an interesting spin on the bots people usually think of.

View the Sphero 2.0

Bringing the Internet into the Kitchen

Bringing the Internet into the Kitchen

Cooking is long past the days of just having a physical cookbook and using it to complete recipes. There are now a number of ways to use the internet while cooking. Having access to the internet while preparing dinner or dessert can be game-changing. If you have a smartphone, a smart assistant, or even just access to the internet and various websites, you can streamline your work in the kitchen and get things done more easily. Here are just some of the ways you can use the internet to aid in the cooking process.

Recipe Sites

You don’t really need to keep a cookbook on the counter if you have access to the web. There are numerous different websites with text recipes you can access. One of the most popular websites is surely Allrecipes. Allrecipes lets you search for certain recipes, but it does more than just that. You can search by ingredient, you can browse different categories (like meal type or health consideration), and you can save recipes to your favorites in order to find them more easily later. myrecipes is also popular. You can search and browse recipes, and you can “Build-a-Meal” by typing in what ingredients you have, getting suggested recipes. Some recipes are text-based, while others are videos. A very popular recipe site is also Tasty on Facebook. They create and share the delicious-looking videos you probably see shared all over your timeline. And if these websites aren’t what you’re looking for, there are also specific websites for certain health concerns. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you can visit VegWeb. If you can’t have gluten in your diet, you can try Gluten Free Girl. There are a lot of options out there for finding recipes online.

Apps

There are plenty of apps you can download to help with cooking. Tasty recently began offering an app for their video recipes. There’s also Yummly, which offers recipes and searches based on ingredients, among other things. There’s the Allrecipes Dinner Spinner app, which brings the recipes from their website to a helpful little app. Kitchen Stories is also useful, offering recipes along with tips and tricks you can use in the kitchen. And then there are useful little apps like SpiceBuddy (which helps users find recipes and pair ingredients) and Kitchen Calculator (which helps you scale recipes and more).

Smart Assistants

If you have a smart device, you might just have a great way to make cooking easier. Having a hands-free way to get help while you’re cooking is wonderful. If you have Siri on your device and you’re using voice activation, you can ask Siri to do things like add grocery items to your list if you use the last of something while cooking. You can also ask Siri to set timers and convert amounts for you. Also, if you have your recipe on your phone, you can ask Siri to read it to you. If you don’t have Siri but you have Alexa, you’re still set. If, for instance, you have an Echo or an Echo Dot, you can get plenty of help during meal prep. Alexa skills can be enabled to help with cooking. You can enable a skill like Ingredient Sub, which allows you to ask Alexa what you can substitute for something you’ve just realized you’re out of. Allrecipes has a skill, so you could have Alexa read your recipe to you if this skill is enabled. Or you can just ask Alexa for help with what you need—ask her to set a timer, to convert measurements, to add items to a shopping list, and more.