Move over Siri, there’s a new voice in town

Techies everywhere are rejoicing with the announcement of Amazon Alexa coming to Canada. Our resident tech expert, Dan Comand, explains what all the excitement is about for those of us not in the know.


This week, Amazon announced that their Alexa service and Echo products will be available on December 5th. Alexa has been in other countries like the US and the UK for a few years, but in a few short weeks, we’ll be able to get our hands on Alexa devices and try “voice computing” for the first time.

What is Alexa?

In 2015, Amazon released their Alexa platform, a new voice-computing service that people can interact with using their Amazon Echo line of products or any Alexa-enabled device.

So what exactly is Alexa? Imagine Siri, only smarter and it works the first time you try it. Like Siri, you can ask Alexa to perform simple tasks like set alarms and reminders, make lists, and play a specific song or podcast, and obviously, you can ask Alexa to order products off Amazon. Imagine running out of toothpaste and ordering some more by saying “Alexa, order me some Colgate!” Okay fine, it’s not exactly the future we were promised, but it’s still pretty damn cool!

By using Alexa’s software developer kit, developers can also create custom tasks and functionality, which Amazon calls “Skills.”

Image via Amazon

What are skills?

There are already 15,000 skills on the Alexa platform, everything from a skill that will tell you hipster jokes, to a WebMD skill that will help you diagnose symptoms you’re having (not great for the hypochondriacs out there). Think of Alexa Skills as smartphone apps, except that you use your voice to interact with them, and there’s even the equivalent of the App Store where you can check out skills based on category and popularity.

Who’s using Alexa?

There are already thousands of companies using Alexa, giving their fans and customers a new way of interacting with their brand and products. Companies like The New York Times and The Washington Post are using Alexa to deliver news to their listeners, while e-commerce companies have built Alexa Skills to push out their daily deals and big sales. There are other big brands and startups jumping on the Alexa platform too, like Uber, which lets you ask to request a ride, and theScore.com’s Alexa Skill, where users can get the latest sports scores, trades, and updates. Some brands are taking advantage of being an early adopter of the Alexa platform and building Skills while they wait for consumers to learn and get used to talking to a computer.

For example, the Domino’s Pizza Alexa Skill (an early front-runner for Eighty-Eight’s favourite) lets users place an order and even check their order status by asking “Alexa, ask Dominos to track my order,” and Alexa will tell you how many minutes away your order is. Why not wash that pizza down with a little whisky? Johnnie Walker created an Amazon Alexa Skill to help educate people about whisky in an easy, accessible way. Users can ask for cocktail recommendations, ask about specific whisky blends, and even find out where Johnnie Walker products are sold in their city. The newly released ecobee4 from the homegrown smart thermostat maker is also taking advantage of voice-enabled technology offering built-in Alexa voice control with their latest product. 

It’s still too early to know who will be the Instagram, Snapchat, or Uber of the voice computing platforms, but while you’re thinking about what Alexa Skills you want in the future, I’ll be dreaming about the day when I can talk to the Domino’s PizzaTracker.

Dan Comand is the founder of Plan A, a software development agency in Toronto, and he’s looking for brands who are interested in being on the Amazon Alexa platform, so if you have any questions or ideas, please send him an email at dan@workwithplana.com