How To Get More From Alexa

By Tracey Dowdy

A recent story in the New York Times, Alexa, We’re Still Trying to Figure Out What to Do With You, makes the argument that most Alexa users aren’t using the virtual assistant to its full potential.

According to research, most of us use our virtual assistants for simple tasks like playing music, checking the weather or setting a timer rather than utilizing one of the 30,000 “skills” (third-party apps) that Alexa features.

If you’re overwhelmed at the prospect of navigating 30,000 potential skills – and let’s be honest, who wouldn’t be? – Skill Finder can help. Launch it by saying, “Alexa, open Skill Finder” or “Alexa, tell Skill Finder to give me the skill of the day.” Skills are broken down into categories or can be searched by popularity.

It’s easy to add an event to your calendar with the Quick Events skill. Just say “Alexa, add dinner with Rose tomorrow at 8pm.” If you aren’t specific in your request, Alexa will prompt you with questions like, “What date?” or “What time would you like to add this event?”

There are lots of skills for foodies. Add the Best Recipes skill to find ideas based on what you have on hand, using up to three ingredients – it even allows you to narrow the results to breakfast, lunch or dinner; The Bartender skill provides lists of ingredients, amounts and instructions for hundreds of cocktails; and My Somm will tell you which wine to pair with what’s for dinner.

If cooking’s not your thing, no problem. Alexa has both Pizza Hut and Domino’s skills, and ordering is as simple as saying “Alexa, tell Pizza Hut to place an order,” or “Alexa, open Domino’s and place my Easy Order.” Plus, you can still track your Domino’s order through its Tracker feature.

Starbucks recently added a skill, so now you don’t even have to open the app on your phone to order ahead.  Just enable the Starbucks Reorder skill and link it to your account, though you’ll need to have ordered via your mobile device in the past in order for the skill to work. Alexa can place an order at one of the last 10 Starbucks locations you’ve visited in person, check your account balance or even switch between your last five mobile orders.

If you need a ride to go pick up that Starbucks order, you can order an Uber or a Lyft with Alexa just by saying, “Alexa, ask Uber to get me a car,” or “Alexa, ask Uber to get me a car.” Lyft goes one step further and will allow you to ask the cost of the fare. “Alexa, what’s the rate for a trip from my house to the train station?”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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