Alexa skills you’ll never use

Monday, 16 July, 2018

It’s fair to say Amazon’s Alexa has become a runaway success in the small – yet rapidly growing – smart speaker market.

Recent consumer adoption statistics from America suggest over 60 per cent of Stateside virtual assistants are Alexas.

The UK figure is lower, but Alexa still commands over half the domestic smart speaker market.

There are several reasons for Amazon’s market dominance.

Amazon brought Alexa to market years before rival products from Apple and Sonos, while a substantial advertising budget bolstered consumer awareness of the virtual assistant concept.

Alexa can control more than twice as many smart devices as its biggest rival, Google Assistant. That’s significant, since voice activation is a key function of smart speakers.

From ordering products to adjusting the lights, Alexa currently dovetails with 12,000 Internet of Things devices – fairly mundane products with newly-acquired internet connectivity.

However, many of Alexa’s functions are superfluous at best.

Below, we consider some of the Alexa features users will never call upon, even though their inclusion demonstrates how powerful and flexible Amazon’s smart speaker has become:

  1. Alexa, sing me a song: You’ll be treated to a bizarre paean about being artificially intelligent. It won’t win Britain’s Got Talent, but it will impress young children
  2. Alexa, can you laugh?: Hastily redesigned after a software glitch triggered random bouts of demonic ‘laughter’ earlier this year, a laughing Alexa is pointless – and unnerving
  3. Alexa, what is the price of bitcoin?: This volatile cryptocurrency sees significant price changes on an hourly basis, meaning updates are only relevant to stock market traders
  4. Alexa, what’s six times two?: Although it always gives the correct answer, mathematical questions like these are a waste of a sophisticated algorithm-controlled device
  5. Alexa, open Random Password Generator: This companion app produces a random password, but without any real innovations. You’d be quicker generating one yourself
  6. Alexa, talk to Glad Leftovers: Another companion app, which recounts when certain items were added to your fridge or freezer. Labelling them would be much easier
  7. Alexa, order an Echo: Given the variety of Echo models available, asking Alexa to buy an Echo is like asking it to order a pizza without stipulating a provider or preferred toppings
  8. Alexa, where is Chuck Norris?: The iconic Hollywood hard-man makes onions cry and reportedly beat his own shadow at boxing, but Alexa refuses to disclose his location
  9. Alexa, this statement is false: Alexa has been programmed to recognise a logical paradox, but its response of ‘that statement is neither true nor false’ is rather facile
  10. Alexa, ask FitBit how far I’ve walked today: Since each FitBit records extensive data and displays it in response to a single screen tap, asking Alexa seems inefficient
  11. Alexa, self-destruct: It’ll be a relief to anyone with teenage children that this command merely triggers a pretend self-destruct sequence, rather than requiring a new Alexa.

The biggest, but not the best

Finally, it should be noted Alexa performed relatively poorly in a benchmarking test earlier this year, where smart speakers were asked almost 4,500 questions by industry experts.

Although it outperformed Apple’s Siri, rival platforms Google Assistant and Cortana were able to recognise more inputs, and deliver a greater number of correct answers.

While Microsoft’s Cortana smart speaker managed to correctly answer 59.5 per cent of queries, Alexa’s figure was a disappointing 44.3 per cent.

That’s worth remembering if you’re primarily intending to use a smart speaker for internet browsing and query resolution, rather than for controlling IoT devices.

After all, voice-operated control of passive devices is one area where Alexa’s talents really shine through.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!