(Photo by Flickr user Duane Storey, used under a Creative Commons license)
With Amazon Echo products dominating the 2017 holiday gift-buying season — especially the Echo Dot and its discounted $35 holiday price point — there’s a decent chance you have one of these smart devices at home in 2018. And, as you probably know, you can increase the functionality of your Echo by enabling skills.
The skills library, which you access via the Alexa app, is a somewhat motley collection of add-on features that can do anything from play ocean sounds to host a round of Jeopardy! to order a pizza. (We’ve covered a few Alexa skills in Philly that are worth checking out too.)
Amazon offers anyone who wants to develop an Alexa skill perks like free Echo Dots and other swag. While skills have to be approved, the result is that the skills library is overflowing with simple gags that make Alexa fart or bark like a dog, as well as countless skills that simply aren’t useful.
[DE, AT & LUX developers] Publish a new skill in January and save your Alexa-designed hoodie. You also have a chance to get an Echo Dot or Echo Plus. Apply here: https://t.co/NU1jmxY6zc pic.twitter.com/i5alrzfgs4
— Alexa Developers (@alexadevs) January 4, 2018
A search for “Delaware” in the skills library brings up two kinds of skills: Commercially developed skills that allow you to get a flash briefing from a local newspaper or radio station (e.g., the Delawareonline and WDEL skills), and independently made skills, mostly centered on trivia. The former are generally useful, the latter, not so much. But they can be fun and entertaining, right?
Eh. Some are better than others. A couple are actually fairly functional beyond killing time in 10-second increments.
Here are the results of an informal test of the five non-media Delaware skills, ranked.
5. Delaware Facts by Kyle Srivastava
- Prompt: Alexa, open Delaware Facts.
I asked twice. The facts? “The University of Delaware is located in Newark” and “Delaware has three counties.” Next.
4. Newark Guide by Ryan Garchinsky
- Prompt: Alexa, launch Newark Guide and tell me what to do.
The first time I asked, Alexa didn’t understand me, likely due to the wordy prompt. The second time, it recommended White Clay Creek State Park, with a warning that if you go too far, you might end up in Pennsylvania or Maryland. Yeah, you gotta watch out for those guys.
3. Delaware Fact Buddy by Voice Factory CI
- Prompt: Alexa, ask Delaware Fact Buddy to tell me something.
Another long and awkward prompt, but at least Delaware Fact Buddy offers facts you might not actually know. Did you know that the Delaware Breakwater at Cape Henlopen State Park was the first of its kind in the Western Hemisphere? I didn’t. If it gets boring, try Alaska Fact Buddy from the same developer.
2. Delaware Trivia by Connie L
- Prompt: Alexa, open Delaware Trivia.
Probably the most entertaining of the the apps, because it’s an actual game, and not just random facts. Alexa gives you five multiple choice questions about the state. I got a 5/5, so it’s not the most challenging game ever, but it would make a good educational game for kids.
1. Newark Guide by Connie L
- Prompt: Alexa, ask Newark Delaware guide what should I do.
The second Delaware app from Connie L, it squeaks past Delaware Trivia because it’s honestly useful. It listed the top five things to do in Newark (including getting UDairy ice cream, exploring Main Street and hiking White Clay Creek Park), and gave more detailed information when prompted by number. When I asked separately what I should do, it suggested strolling the Newark Reservoir walking trail and William M. Redd, Jr. Park. It’s not going to tell Newark locals anything they don’t know, but for students new to town or out-of-towners looking for something to do, it’s a decent guide.
Overall, the local, non-media Alexa skills are underwhelming. Not much competition for independent developers, just saying. Shoutout to Connie L, though.
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