Mike MacDonagh's Blog

Somewhere in the overlap between software development, process improvement and psychology

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Amazon Alexa – what it needs to do next

I’m a big fan of Amazon Alexa. I bought a dot to experiment with and it’s so useful I have it in several rooms now. Alexa can control my smart lighting (courtesy of lightwaverf kit), play music, order food, order some amazon stuff, manage my shopping and to-do lists amongst other things, but she’s got a few drawbacks.

Here’s what I’d like to see Alexa tackle next:

  1. Conversation flow – the ability to add contextual follow up questions, without every command being “Alexa, do a thing…” It sounds trivial but when you’re having entire conversations with Alexa it’s a bit weird to have to use the wake word for every sentence.
  2. Multiple commands in one e.g. “Alexa, turn on the kitchen lights and start playing the cooking playlist” rather than “Alexa, turn on the kitchen lights” and “Alexa, start playing the cooking playlist”
  3. Unstructured search – Alexa’s great at facts but Amazon have decided not to make her opinionated.  She’s great at “what is a hoover?” and “what is 12 miles in kilometres?”.
    1. She can answer: “Who played harry potter in harry potter and the philosopher’s stone?”
    2. But can’t do things like “who played Harry Potter in the movies”. In contrast google can answer that question with a quick snippet about the cast. I read a blog that said they didn’t want to make a decision for users about simply returning the first search hit rather than making an informed choice – but if I’m making a voice search that’s exactly what I want. If I want to get a range of views and select my search result I’ll use a text interface. Returning “cards” with links to Bing isn’t good enough – just read me the top hit from <insert search engine here>
  4. Intercom – I want to be able to send a voice message from one Alexa device to another to create an intercom system in my house (e.g. “Alexa, send a message to the living room telling the kids to turn the TV volume down”)
  5. Delayed reminders – Alexa’s good at setting alarms but I want her to remind me with a message not just beeping (e.g. “Alexa, at 6pm remind me it’s time to order a taxi”). At the moment, that sentence will result in “Time to order a taxi” on the to do list. Or I can set an alarm for 6pm which beeps. I want a voice message at a specific time.
  6. Alarms – play music not just beeps. (e.g. “Alexa, wake me up at 7am with my Spotify Wake Up playlist”)
  7. Local DLNA integration. Alexa’s great at streaming music from the internet but doesn’t currently see home DLNA music as a streaming source. Which is odd, I can see how to program a skill to do discovery (similar to the current smart home discovery, or just built into that) and the rest is the same. Amazon, if you read this I’ll do it for you at a reasonable price.
  8. Chromecast e.g. Alexa, play Netflix: Game of Thrones”
  9. Order a Dominos. Yep, I know it can do this in the US so why not in the UK? Dominos allow ordering via chatbot in Facebook Messenger so this is easy to do from a coding point of view. Dominos, if you’re listening…
  10. IFTTT integration. C’mon Amazon, IFTTT say they’re waiting for you do to something. This unlocks millions of possibilities.
  11. Add things to my Amazon Wish List e.g. “Alexa, add a Raspberry Pi to my Amazon wish list” only adds it to my (local) shopping list.
  12. Remove things from todo or shopping lists by voice. Also, email me my lists.
  13. Custom volume schedules. In the morning I want Alexa to be nice and quiet, in the evening I want her volume to be a lot higher. Perhaps what I really need is her to automatically adjust her volume based on the ambient noise. After all she’s listening all the time anyway.
  14. Proactive notification. I realise it would be annoying if any skill could push notifications to my Alexa (I don’t want random ads being spoken in my house) but I’d like to be able to whitelist some apps so I can get alerts at certain times of day from specific apps (e.g. order status on ordered food, package tracking, breaking news, birthday reminders).
  15. I want a big Echo with a screen for my kitchen too.

I realise many of these are about integrating outside of the Amazon ecosystem which is perhaps why they’ve been reluctant to do so. But with Google Home, an MS and Apple assistants turning up soon the winner is likely to be the most useful all round. At the moment that’s Alexa, but by being more open to integrations it’ll be hard to beat.

What do you want Alexa to be able to do?

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