What is Alexa and what does it do?

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By Mike Atherton 28 Jun 2018
What is Alexa and what does it do?

Alexa is Amazon’s digital assistant, and one of the most recognisable voices of smart home technology – but what is it, and what can it do?

Alexa was first introduced with the Amazon Echo smart speaker, and is the name of Amazon's smart assistant. She can help you with all sorts of things, from checking the weather to ordering pizza.

So let's take a look at how Alexa works.

What is Alexa?

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Alexa is a smart assistant that listens to, and responds to voice commands, giving you answers, reminders and offering other useful information when you need it.

One of the most common uses for Alexa is answering quick questions, like "what's the weather like tomorrow", or "what time does Tesco close?". It can also sync with your Google or Apple calendars to manage your appointments and provide reminders. Instead of having inbuilt apps like your smartphone, Alexa has 'skills' that allow her to connect to tons of third-party services from Spotify to Domino’s pizza.

So, rather than digging through apps, menus and search boxes on your phone to find your favourite music, you can simply sit down on the couch and say "Alexa, play my rock playlist on Spotify". And if all that music puts you in a shopping mood, you can say "Alexa, what are your deals on Bluetooth headphones" and Alexa will trawl through all the deals to find you the best ones.

Finally, Alexa acts as a smart home hub – connecting to a huge range of connected devices, from light bulbs to coffee makers, and letting you control them with your voice.

 

What else can Alexa do?

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There are a few different smart home platforms to choose from, like Apple’s Homekit and Google Home. But what makes this one different is how easy Amazon have made it for other companies to make their devices and services work with Alexa - without needing Amazon’s approval. This means there are already tons of gadgets and services out there compatible with Alexa, and the number’s growing all the time.

That should be enough for most users – but if you’re handy with code, you can even cook up your own Alexa Skills to make it even more powerful. You could teach Alexa how to ask specific questions, look up information from a certain website, or even link it with other kit in your home.

Where can you find Alexa?

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We first saw Alexa on Amazon’s Echo smart speaker – and for a while, that was the only place you could find her. More recently, though, she's found her way onto other kit.

There are a number of Amazon devices that now have Alexa built in. The Echo Dot speaker gives you all the powers of Alexa but lacks the high-quality audio you get with the Echo Plus. If you're more interested in its smart home capabilities than playing music, the Echo Dot is a much more affordable option.

At the other end of the scale is the Echo Show, which adds an HD display to the mix. Alexa on the show can also stream YouTube, make video calls and display a whole host of useful information.

More recently, Alexa has found her way onto third-party devices too. High-end audio manufacturer Sonos has added Alexa Skills to their latest Sonos One speaker, and some smart-heating and smart-security systems are now Alexa compatible too. You can even get Alexa enabled smart-plugs that let turn things on or off without having to actually flick the switch - or even be at home!

It’s this openness that really sets Alexa apart from other smart home platforms. Much like Google’s approach to Android, Amazon seems happy for third parties to use their software if it helps them reach more users. For that reason, we expect to see Alexa on more and more device as time goes on.

Hopefully, that's helped you to understand what Alexa is, and what she can do. If you'd like help with anything else, you can contact one of our Team Knowhow experts here.

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