Alexa makes your life easier, more meaningful, and more fun by letting you voice control your world. Alexa can help you get more out of the things you already love and discover new possibilities you’ve never imagined.
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History and Development
Alexa was developed out of a predecessor named Ivona which was invented in Poland, inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey and bought by Amazon in 2013. In November 2014, Amazon announced Alexa alongside the Echo. Alexa was inspired by the computer voice and conversational system on board the Starship Enterprise in science fiction TV series and movies, beginning with Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Amazon developers chose the name Alexa because it has a hard consonant with the X, which helps it be recognized with higher precision. They have said the name is reminiscent of the Library of Alexandria, which is also used by Amazon Alexa Internet for the same reason. In June 2015, Amazon announced the Alexa Fund, a program that would invest in companies making voice control skills and technologies.
In January 2017, the first Alexa Conference took place in Nashville, Tennessee, an independent gathering of the worldwide community of Alexa developers and enthusiasts. At the Amazon Web Services Re: Invent conference in Las Vegas, Amazon announced Alexa for Business and the ability for app developers to have paid add-ons to their skills.
What is Amazon Alexa ?
Alexa is Amazon’s cloud-based voice service available on hundreds of millions of devices from Amazon and third-party device manufacturers. With Alexa, you can build natural voice experiences that offer customers a more intuitive way to interact with the technology they use every day. We offer a collection of tools, APIs, reference solutions, and documentation to make it easier to build for Alexa.
Start building for voice today by creating Alexa skills, connecting Alexa to devices, or integrating Alexa directly into your products. You can engage our Alexa Solution Provider network for a range of services including strategy, pre-tested reference architectures and hardware, hardware and software development, manufacturing, and go-to-market support.
What can Amazon Alexa do ?
Alexa is Amazon’s digital assistant. It’s primarily voice-based, and competes with Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri. You can find it on various devices, including smartphones, smart speakers, TVs, and smart displays.
Alexa is able to play music, provide information, deliver news and sports scores, tell you the weather, control your smart home and even allow Prime members to order products from Amazon. Alexa sits in the cloud, expanding the information offered all the time and refining the responses to give you more accurate information. No matter what Alexa device you ask, all can return these sorts of answers, be that on your sound bar or in your car.
One of the core functions is playing music and Alexa can draw many sources. Amazon Music is supported, of course, but beyond that, there’s support for many more services like Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music, TuneIn as well as apps from individual providers, like the BBC.
The Echo devices with a display can also return visual information, extending beyond widgets to news videos, recipes or games. On the display-equipped devices – Echo Show – you can also use touch controls to respond, for example, or to control smart home devices.
Alexa can also tap into information from other devices and services by using Skills (which are like apps), so will be able to give you specific information about your car, your latest weigh-in with Fitbit or to find your Tile.
Among Alexa’s most popular capabilities, she can:
- Play music
- Report the news
- Check the weather
- Offer sports updates
- Play podcasts
- Stream live radio
- Control your smart home
- Manage your lists and calendars
- Call phones and other Alexa-enabled devices
- Set timers and alarms
- Play audiobooks
- Find local business information
- Answer questions
- Do math
- Tell stories
- Administer games
- Tell jokes
- Summon a ride
- Order dinner
- Find recipes
- Teach history lessons
- Shop on Amazon
To make Alexa your digital assistant, you’ll need an Alexa-enabled device, where you’ll issue commands. For most current users, that’s a smart speaker, such as Amazon’s own line of Echo devices.
Among a variety of other administrative tasks, the app allows you to:
- Pair Alexa with Alexa-controlled devices
- Set your default services, such as your preferred calendar and music-streaming services, and link associated accounts
- See and manage your lists, alarms, reminders and timers
- View your skills and enable new ones
- Group speakers for Multi-Room Audio, and smart home devices for bulk control
- Assemble your flash briefing
What Is an Amazon Echo ?
If you want to access any type of software or program, you need the hardware to do so. With Alexa, this is no exception. Amazon’s accompanying hardware devices were released under a product line called “Echo”. Amazon Echo refers to their smart speakers and smart displays which were built primarily for Alexa to operate on.
At the most basic level, they all have built-in microphones, speakers and the ability to access the internet. The Echo will hear your command and Alexa will respond through its built-in speaker. Beyond that, there a variety of options depending on the model you choose. Some may have powerful speakers and others even have a 1080p visual display.
What can Amazon Echo do ?
In the family of Amazon Echo devices — primarily smart speakers and displays — Alexa is the voice-based interface you primarily use to control it.
Quick tip: Most of Alexa’s intelligence comes through an always-on connection to the internet. If your Echo device loses its WiFi connection or your internet access is offline, Alexa will be unable to respond to commands or answer questions.
When you wake up Echo, it immediately listens for a command, which it then does its best to follow. For instance, when you ask Echo to play a specific song or type of music, it uses the available services to find the music. You can also ask for information about the weather, news, sports scores, and more.
Echo responds to natural speech so well that it feels almost like talking to a person. If you thank Echo for helping you, it has a response to that.
Echo also has an associated app for Android and iOS phones and tablets. It enables you to control the Echo without talking to it, configure the device, and view recent commands and interactions.
Set up Alexa Echo Devices in a Few Easy Steps
1. Have your Wi-Fi password handy
You can also enable Bluetooth on your
phone for an easier setup experience.
2. Download the Amazon Alexa app
If you haven’t already, you can click here to download or update the latest version of the Alexa app on your smartphone.
3. Plug in your Echo device
Plug in your Echo device into an outlet. In about a minute, Alexa will greet you and let you know to complete setup in the Alexa app.
4. Set up in the Alexa app
Open the Alexa app and follow the on-screen instructions to set up your device. If you aren’t prompted to set up your device after opening the Alexa app, tap the More icon to add your device manually.
5. Get started, just ask Alexa
Once setup is complete, say “Alexa” to wake your Echo, then ask for music, news, weather, and more – or ask, “Alexa, what can you do?” You’ll know Alexa is ready when the light ring turns blue.
Set up Alexa Echo Show Devices in a Few Easy Steps
1. Have your Wi-Fi password handy
Make sure you also have your log in information for any supported Music Streaming Services or Video Service Providers you want to listen to or watch with Alexa.
2. Plug in your Echo Show
Plug in your Echo Show into an outlet. In about a minute, the display will turn on and Alexa will greet you.
3. Set up on-screen
Follow the on-screen setup instructions. During setup, you’ll connect to the Wi-Fi so you can access Amazon services.
4. Get started, just ask Alexa
Once setup is complete, say “Alexa” to wake your Echo Show, then ask to watch a show, cook along to a recipe, make a video call, and more—or ask, “Alexa, what can you do?”
5. Access settings and shortcuts
Swipe down from the top of your screen to access Settings. Swipe left from the right side of the screen for shortcuts to music, smart home, tips on using Alexa, and more.
Amazon additionally includes Alexa on Fire OS-based tablets, media streaming devices, and TVs. Other products that have Alexa built in or are just compatible with the assistant include thermostats, lamps, smartwatches, security cameras, smart plugs, and many others. There are too many products to list here, so we’ve rounded up some of the more interesting ones below.
- Amazon Echo
- Amazon Echo Dot
- Amazon Echo Studio
- Amazon Echo Auto
- Sonos Move
- Bose Portable Smart Speaker
- Marshall Uxbridge
Media streaming devices:
- Amazon Fire TV Stick Lite
- Amazon Fire TV Stick
- Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
- Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max
- Amazon Fire TV Cube
- Amazon Fire TV Omni Series
- Amazon Fire TV 4-series
Other Alexa devices:
A powerful and extendable smart assistant, Amazon Alexa is currently king of the smart home, and is available on a wider range of devices than the Google Assistant. Importantly, Alexa is getting better all of the time, with Amazon adding new features and abilities.
The downside is that Alexa isn’t always as easy to converse with as Google Assistant (see Amazon Alexa vs Google Home for more information), and doesn’t always give you what you’re asking for. Understanding natural language is the main area that Amazon needs to work on. That said, for the scope, range of products and total smart home coverage, Alexa is a top smart assistant.
The Amazon Echo is a well-engineered appliance that has a set of capabilities that renders it quite useful just a few minutes out of the box. It didn’t require a lot of technical expertise to begin enjoying its functionality. At the Prime discounted price of $99, I think it’s a good deal for a self-contained network music and news player with good sound.
Although the Echo is not ready for prime time in terms of being a virtual personal assistant, I hope future enhancements broaden out its capabilities to include both these items as well as other home automation applications. I can see this type of device becoming a central controller of other networked appliances in the home in the near future such as lights, climate control, television, and security.