Special to USA TODAY
Published 5:00 AM EDT Jul 11, 2019
Every few months, I take a hard look at Amazon Echo and catch up on the latest skills. If youre not familiar with skills, these programs give Alexa new tricks. Whats interesting is that individuals produce many Alexa skills, and Amazon shares skill revenues with developers.
One developer, Nick Schwab, has published enough Alexa skills as a side hustle to buy himself the car of his dreams, a Tesla. About 250,000 Alexa owners use his ambient sleep skill each day. Watch a short interview I did with Nick as talks about what it takes to be an Alexa skills developer and make money at it.
Its hard not to mention Alexa without also talking about privacy. Now, you have a way to wipe the slate clean every day. Just say, "Alexa, delete everything I said today." You can find more information about how to use this feature in detail on my site.
Below are some of my favorite new skills, from the realms of work, domestic life, and entertainment.
1: Get flash briefings
Open the Alexa app, open the menu, and select Settings. Scroll down to find Flash Briefing. Select what content you want to include in your daily Flash Briefing. This is like a skill within a skill, and it lets you create your own front-page news.
At the “Alexa, give me my flash briefing” command, you can have her update you on what matters most – news headlines, sports, stock prices, Prime deal of the day, inspirational messages and thousands of others.
2: Donate to a great cause
It feels good to donate to a good cause, and now you can do so on a whim. By saying, “Alexa, donate $10 to the World Wildlife Fund,” this can be handled automatically.
Once you've set up Amazon Pay and given the authorization to send funds with your voice, this is a convenient way to donate money to an organization you care about. Echo keeps a list of organizations that are compatible with the service.
3: Find your misplaced phone
Youve looked all over the house and cant find your phone. Before you panic and start thinking you've lost it, ask Alexa.
You can ask Alexa to find your phone via the TrackR "Find My Phone" skill. Simply say, "Alexa, ask TrackR to ring my phone," and your paired device will loudly sound off. From there, follow the ringtone or vibration to its location.
Perhaps the best thing about this skill is that it will make your phone ring even when it's in silent or do-not-disturb mode.
4: Control your Roku
Roku owners can voice-control their streaming gadgets and Roku-powered TVs with Alexa. Remember, Google Assistant/Google Home already had this capability since last year, so this is a nice treat for Amazon Echo owners. Additionally, several Roku gadgets have their own built-in voice search and controls.
Naturally, Alexa can already control Fire TV streaming gadgets. Sorry, Netflix is still not supported.
You can open apps by saying, "Alexa, launch (name of the app) on Roku.” You can pause, rewind, play and stop your video by saying, "Alexa, (action) on Roku." And of course, you can search for content by saying, "Alexa, show me (genre) on Roku."
5: Unlock doors with Amazon Key
If you have an Amazon Key-compatible smart lock and Alexa-enabled devices, you can lock and unlock your door with a voice PIN. You can also check the status of your lock.
To get started, tap on “Enable Skill,” authenticate using Amazon username and password, then either tap on “Discover Devices” or say, “Alexa, discover new devices.” To enable “Unlock by Voice,”' go to the Alexa mobile app and follow the directions.
When you allow "Unlock by Voice" in the Alexa app, you also must set a four-digit code that is required when unlocking your smart lock.
6: Create an intercom system
With this feature, you can set up a home intercom system with any Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Show devices. The feature is called "Drop In" and it allows Alexa devices to communicate with each other.
Let's say you're downstairs and you want to let the kids know dinner is ready. Use your main Alexa downstairs to talk to your children upst