After I mentioned that I use my Amazon Echo daily in the last post, I got an email asking, “for what?”. Well, let’s see.
Our Echo lives on a side table in the family room, near artwork of a robot and his girlfriend by Jason Sho Green. Appropriate, right? Our home has an open layout and we can speak commands to her in a normal tone of voice from anywhere on the first floor or, with a slightly raised voice, from the second floor at the top of the stairs. It’s both creepy and useful that her microphone is that sensitive.
Though Alexa can do little news summaries called Daily Briefings, I don’t listen to those each morning. I do, however, ask Alexa to tell me the weather. “Alexa, what’s today’s weather?” triggers a nice summary of the forecast and current conditions.
I meditate almost every day and I’ve been using a mantra style lately. I usually settle into a comfortable seated position and ask Alexa to play Mantras for Precarious Times by Deva Premal from my Amazon Prime Music Library. The audio quality is good and I know the first three mantras total 20 minutes, so that’s my minimum goal. When I’m done, I can simply tell Alexa to stop playing.
Throughout the day, if I’m working on the first floor of the house I often tell Alexa to stream music or podcasts. She can play radio stations and shows from TuneIn Radio as well as all of the Prime stations, albums, and playlists. Usually I use voice controls, but sometimes I’ll open the Echo app on my laptop or phone to choose a specific album.
I also use her for tiny things that she just makes faster and easier. Today when I was making a pot of minestrone, I noticed that I was low on garlic. No problem. “Alexa, add garlic to my shopping list.” I didn’t need to stop what I was doing to jot down a note. I use her timer and alarm functions every day. Is it life changing to be able to ask, “Alexa, what’s today’s date?” when I’m writing a check? Of course not. But she takes care of little things like that which would break the flow of what I’m doing.
We also have her connected to three WeMo outlets, powering lights. Again, it’s not a huge effort to flip a light switch, so voice control is far from a necessity! It’s nice to have her turn on a light before I walk into a dark room in the middle of the night. It’s easier to ask her to take care of the lights when I’m heading upstairs with my hands full. When I was recovering from my broken leg, the light control was much more important. It’s simply convenient now.
I don’t know if our use is typical. People who have more home automation or want to play with IFTTT have many more applications for the Echo than we do; the Echo forums are full of people committed to finding new applications, but that’s not a hobby I enjoy. I still think Alexa is stupid compared to Google Now, which I prefer for information retrieval. However, since I’m very interested in digital devices and assistants, I’m glad we had the Echo in the house for a while before JIBO arrives (current shipping estimate is March/April 2016). It takes a while to get used to using voice commands for daily activities instead of just novelty, like asking Alexa to tell jokes, etc.
One useful question might be, “If the Echo died, would we replace it?” I have my doubts.