Welcome to another Friday! For those Seahawks fans, let’s wish them luck this Sunday against the Texans! I was in Seattle earlier this week to meet with Amazon (more on that below), and I am going to go back on Sunday for the game. Go Hawks!
Regarding my Amazon visit, that has an interesting history. Back in February 2016 I got a call from Amazon based on they hearing about Ask Alexa. I interviewed for a Alexa Evangelist position. It became readily apparent part way through the interview they wanted me to travel extensively in this position. That was a killer for me. In addition, while it wasn’t the major point of me declining to work for them, I felt if I took the job I would have to abandon Ask Alexa and the community. Anyway, fast forward to last week and I got another call from the Alexa Evangelist for the Smart Home division. Once again, the conversation started with “Hey, we have heard some wonderful things about your Ask Alexa skill and….” so I went to Seattle to talk to them!
Anyway, the meeting went well (I love the fact you can bring your dogs to work with you!).
They asked me a LOT of questions about my app, including the user experience I have created (they seemed REALLY interested in my macros/extensions concept…particularly the Rooms/Groups extension). The good news, and I have to be vague, is that skills like mine and others may not be needed in a year…Much of the functionality will be built in! While most people think I would be upset about this, I am more about the end user experience…if Amazon can bake some of the functionality into the native functions, then that allows me to focus on the items that are NOT in there. Compound commands, for example, are not yet supported and may not be in the short term as Amazon is focusing on ‘macros’ of things that happen when one command is given (similar to how Ask Alexa has been since the beginning). Another area where no other app can match is the reporting abilities…While the main Alexa app is (or will be) polling the devices natively you can get status, but it will be difficult to get anything like the custom reporting available in Ask Alexa.
Bottom line, this visit to my old stomping grounds of Seattle was fun. Amazon may continue to consult with me as, and I quote “You have done things with your skill and integration that we didn’t even know was possible or needed”. High praise indeed.
Finally, regarding the next version, I have the compound commands working rather nice, along with some nice little updates to a number of the extensions. One item I DID reconsider was removing the speaker control functionality. I am going to keep that in, simply removing the Sonos specific memory slots that never worked well to begin with. I estimate I will be releasing the app in November and then step back and look at the landscape before I make the next major change…bringing up the Ask-Alexa.com web site! While it will NOT be like WebCoRE (yet), it will allow me to host custom scripts that will make setup of Ask Alexa MUCH easier for a new user (and those that upgrade). Since this is an external site that I control, it will give a more custom experience that only SmartThings setups can’t give you. More to come….
Update Well that was quick…Amazon just enabled Routines within its app (I was told it was going to happen, just not this soon. See here: Alexa Routines - Live at last (two years in the making)). Anyway, I can now reveal that Ask Alexa will support this functionality in the next release as well. It will have similar functionality to my Alexa Helper App from yesteryear (see http://thingsthataresmart.wiki/index.php?title=Alexa_Helper). This app is still valid and was one of the most downloaded apps before Ask Alexa. Ask Alexa will have similar functionality allowing you to create a virtual switch that will then kick off Ask Alexa macros. Because of the way this works, voice reports can NOT be utilized; however, complex functions CAN be used…for example, I use this functionality to simply tell Alexa “Good Night” and she locks the doors, turns off the lights, and depending on the day of the week sets a specific home mode so they alarms work properly (Weekday or weekend).
Good work Amazon! And thanks for letting me know when we talked This app can also be used to FINALLY utilize Alexa as a taking alarm clock, replacing the talking alarm clock in my home as well (http://thingsthataresmart.wiki/index.php?title=Talking_Alarm_Clock)