Amazon Echo Gets a New Life

When the Amazon Echo was first released, it came with a fairly small list of commands. Even though features seemed a bit limited, the device was still in high demand among technology enthusiasts and Amazon Prime lovers. Advertisements for these products have typically demonstrated only a few popular native features though.

The Alexa app, which interprets voice commands from the Echo, understands thousands of different phrases. It takes practice and learning a new skill set to really get acquainted with this device. Most electronic devices that require you to take the time to learn and develop a new skill set to make practical use of them, seem to become more like expensive paper-weights after about a month or maybe even week of use.

I was initially excited about the prospect of being able to use voice commands to control all of the lights in my house seeing as how I have my house equipped with the Wemo light bulb system and the Phillips Hue light bulbs and pods. I really liked the Audible and Kindle Books feature for reading books aloud while I draw. It seemed like a good idea to have access to additional list-making options too.

The lighting systems that I installed in my home, were not automatically programmed to be controlled using standard voice commands. I ended up downloading the IFTTT app to remedy this. With the use of the IFTTT app, I was able to program the app with specified voice commands for each function that I wanted to trigger.

I’m not complaining. However, I was one of those people who got the Amazon “Echo,” and thought I was going to make good use of it only to neglect it for months at a time. I had purchased both the “Echo” and the “Echo dot” too.

I am sure that there are several people like me out there who just lost interest for a while. There have been other obstacles to overcome when trying to convince more people to adopt them though too. Aside from those who show no interest in gadgets like these in the first place, lately they have been getting negative press over privacy concerns.

Privacy Concerns

Concerns about privacy have been raised because of the investigation of an ongoing murder case that took place in Arkansas a while back. The authorities were pushing to get a warrant to gain access to the suspect, James Bates’s Echo device. Amazon fought diligently to protect the privacy of consumers in this case. Regardless, James agreed to cooperate and gave the police access to the device.

Deleting Recorded Audio from Amazon’s Server

Even though these devices are always listening and recording, you can delete these recordings that are stored on their server by going here. Make sure to select the “Devices” tab. Then choose which device you want to manage, and there is an option to delete all data from the server with one click.

Bug Fixes and Improvements

If you know anything about technology, gadgets, automated devices, AI, or computers, you know that they are always advancing and changing. As hardware improves, software does too. However, any time new software is released there are usually bugs and issues that need to be worked out.

The good news is that manufacturers of these products typically release periodic updates that come with bug fixes and improvements.

Third Party Developers Stimulate Growth

About a year and a half ago Amazon opened its Alexa app to third party developers. Since then the app has gone from housing 158 to over 10,000 “skills.” These “skills” are apps that are designed especially for Amazon’s voice recognition devices for use with the Alexa app.

Regardless of any negative press, huge growth is expected in this submarket. Just recently, $100 million dollars was reinvested into an Alexa Fund to provide financial support to encourage developers to continue to create skills for their devices.

Where to Get the Echo and Echo Dot

If you don’t have one yet and you would like to try it, you can order the Amazon Echo here. You can order the Echo Dot here. If you already have one, you can download the Alexa App here and follow along too if you want.

Here are some pretty standard-seeming practical features and functions that most of us have probably heard of:

Standard Features

  • Daily news briefing
  • Access your Google Calendar
  • Ask for the current time
  • Listen to news headlines
  • Manage shopping lists and to-do’s
  • Find answers from the web
  • Control your smart home
  • Listen to Audiobooks
  • Set timers and alarms
  • Hear a bad joke
  • Find recipes

Here are some of the skills that I just newly discovered by messing around asking Alexa some of the most random things I could think of:

Newer Skills

  • Listen to Ted Talks – “Alexa, What is the latest TED Talk.”
  • NPR One – “Alexa, Open NPR One.”
  • Open find my phone – “Alexa, ask tracker to find my phone.”
  • Kitty Cat Meowing Game – “Alexa, Meow Meow”
  • Launch guitar tuner – “Alexa, ask guitar tuner to tune my guitar.”
  • Listen to Chuck facts – “Alexa, ask Chuck Facts to tell me something about Chuck Norris.”
  • Flattery Skill – “Alexa, Flatter me.”
  • Unofficial Zork Game – “Alexa, Let’s play the Unofficial Zork Game.”
  • Twenty Questions – “Alexa, play twenty questions.”
  • Interview Prep – “Alexa, Ask Interview Prep for a question.”
  • Quora – “Alexa, ask Quora…”
  • Would You Rather – “Alexa, let’s play Would You Rather.”
  • Positive Actions – “Alexa, akd positive actions what I should do next.”

These are only a few of many useful, fun, and playful skills that have been developed for use with the Echo. Other advancements have been made to improve the overall functionality and compatibility with other gadgets as well. I was even able to pair a Bluetooth speaker to my device for a higher quality audio experience. You can find a list of other Alexa enabled devices here too.

One particular function that I find to be most useful for me is the “Flash Briefing” command. In my line of work, this is probably one of the most useful features since it is important for me to keep up with what is trending in the news. I really like the way that it can be customized too.

Since I don’t always have time to sit here reading news from all of the major news outlets, I can just ask Alexa for the flash briefing, and I don’t have to miss a thing. These can be toggled on and off for your convenience.

Customizing Your Flash Briefing

If you want to keep from having to listen to every single “Flash Briefing” in your list of skills, you can toggle them on and off. You can also say, “Alexa, Skip,” if you want to get to a particular skill in your list of briefings faster. This makes it easier to catch the news on a certain topic of interest.

There are tons of skills to choose from when asking for trending news stories and headlines. Here is a list of skills that are in my hourly, daily, or weekly briefings that I recommend for you tech fanatics and then some.

Optional Flash Briefing Skills

  • Top Reddit
  • Daily Tech Headlines
  • Digital Trends
  • Tech Crunch
  • CNET News
  • Engadget
  • Digg Trending
  • Digg News
  • TWIT
  • Gizmodo
  • Science News
  • Quickly Catch Up Buzzfeed News
  • White House Tweets
  • CNN Flash Briefing
  • Associated Press Headlines Top News
  • NPR Hourly News
  • This Day in History Top Story
  • Word of the Day
  • Verse of the Day
  • Today’s Forecast
  • Dataskeptic News
  • VIP Workshop News Daily Briefing for WordPress
  • Harvard Business Review Management Tip

Getting Acquainted with Voice Commands

You probably won’t have to worry about your device turning into an expensive paper weight if you just write down or bookmark a list of useful commands to practice using. It wouldn’t hurt to periodically reference your Alexa app until you are used to the commands. If you are concerned with privacy issues, I would recommend periodically deleting the recorded audio on Amazon’s server.

Stimulating Growth for a Developing Sub-Market

Regardless of the fact that I felt like my voice-activated gadgets had become glorified paperweights, with a little bit of curious investigation, I found a goldmine of practical applications. I’ve also discovered that third parties are being given financial support to create skills for these voice activated devices. By 2020, this sub-market of voice activated connected devices is projected to drive around $11 million in revenue for Amazon.

A New Life with New Skills

These newly developed skills and commands appear to have given the Echo and Echo Dot new life. These gadgets have become exceptionally useful devices for multitasking. Now I can increase productivity by staying informed, keep better track of my agenda, and I can even keep myself entertained.

Comment to let me know what your favorite and most practical “skill” for the Alexa app is.

[More: Apple Taken to Court in Australia for Allegedly Misleading Consumers]




  1. Great article! I have been wanting to get an echo but hesitated because of the privacy concerns. Doesn’t sound like it would be to difficult to manage your privacy after all.


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