Amazon Alexa: how does it work?

Deux enceintes noires Echo Amazon Alexa

Artificial intelligence applied to everyday life; Alexa is a voice assistant that simplifies various tasks for its user.  Available on the French market since 2018, what do you need to know about Alexa?  

 

Amazon Alexa: what is it?  

Amazon Alexa, the intelligent virtual assistant, was developed by the company Amazon. It’s arrival into the voice assistant market was announced in November 2014 alongside the reveal of the Amazon Echo range of speakers.   

Amazon Alexa is in competition with Apple and Google’s voice assistants that were launched in April and July 2014, respectively.   

 

Timeline: where did Alexa come from and how has it developed?  

To understand everything properly, we must first take a look back on the brief history of Amazon, the company that created Alexa. Founded in 1994 by Jeff Bezos, the name Amazon has its own important meaning. Having initially planned to create the world’s biggest bookshop, J. Bezos wanted to give his company a name of comparable size to the scale he aspired for it to grow to. In the end he opted for Amazon, in reference to the largest river in the world. In 1998, Amazon started to diversify its sales to include products other than books. This trend continued over the years, notably with the creation of Amazon Business, Amazon Prime and Amazon Music Unlimited, to name a few.  By 2021 Amazon was the second most powerful retailer, according to NRF.  

Focusing back on the Amazon Alexa. The name is said to have been inspired by the Star Trek series (the voice in the ship) and by the Great Library of Alexandria.   

The announcement of the Alexa assistant is closely tied to the release of the Amazon Echo range.  The virtual assistant was made available in the USA in November 2014, the same time as the Echo connected speaker.  However, both didn’t appear on the French market until 2018.   

Although Alexa entered the voice assistant market later than its other competitors, it was the first of its kind not to be restricted to smartphones from the very beginning.  Indeed, the reason Alexa and the Amazon Echo range (connected speakers) were announced at the same time is because they were complementary accessories.    

 

Connected Amazon speakers: the Amazon Echo range 

Alexa is primarily known for being used with Amazon connected speakers.  However, it’s worth pointing out that a user can also use Alexa on their smartphone by downloading the associated application.   

The Amazon Echo range offers several types of speakers, with or without screens, that have evolved over the years through “generations”.  

 

  • Amazon Echo  

The Amazon Echo connected speaker is the standard model launched by Amazon in 2014. The 1st generation Amazon Echo was a black cylinder, but there are now also 2nd, 3rd and 4th generation speakers.    

 

  • Amazon Echo Dot  

The Amazon Echo Dot connected speaker is of a smaller size than the classic Amazon Echo. One of its main points of differentiation, apart from size, is that it can be paired with Bluetooth speakers.  

 

  • Amazon Echo Spot 

Although still compatible with Alexa, this connected speaker differs from the Echo Dot and the classic Echo as it has an integrated screen. In fact, it is thanks to this screen that users have access to a wider range of actions.    

 

  • Amazon Echo Show  

Even more so than with the Echo Spot, Amazon has relied heavily on the smart speaker-screen combination.  The connected Echo Show screens are a lot larger than the Echo Spot and rectangular.  It also has a Zigbee controller (just like the latest generation of the classic Echo).   

The advantage offered by connected speakers that come with screens is that the user receives an even wider choice of functions (watch a video or film, look at their photo album etc.).    

The latest generation of Echo Show (Echo Show 15) even dissociates itself a little from the speaker functionality in terms of appearance, becoming a fully-fledged connected display. However, the device can still be used in the same way as the previously mentioned connected speakers due to its Alexa voice commands.  

 

 

Features of Amazon Alexa   

Enceinte noire Echo Dot connectée Amazon Alexa
 

General Functions 

To activate the Amazon voice assistant you have to say the wake word, which is none other than its own name “Alexa”. The user then verbally gives their command so that the assistant can carry out the task.  For example, a user may ask: “Alexa turn on the living room lights”.    

Alexa can carry out a wide variety of tasks, such as playing music, giving the news, operating all your connected devices etc.   

  

Features in a connected house 

Thanks to its compatibility with numerous devices, Amazon Alexa can control a variety of daily tasks within your connected home.  It is even capable of creating a routine based on the daily habits of its user.  Alexa can turn your connected lightbulbs on and off, adjust your connected thermostat to best suit the temperature of your home and increase home security by connecting to your smart cameras etc.   

 

What is a “skill”?  

When discussing Amazon’s intelligent speakers, we often hear talk of its “skills”. A “skill” represents a more advanced feature that allows the user to further customise their experience.  When Alexa was first launched there were only 13 skills.  According to Amazon, in 2019 its voice assistant had at least 100 000 skills. In addition, Voicebot.ai data shows that in that same year there were 36 new skills added each day.  

Its advanced features have their own dedicated application (Alexa Skills Store) that can be downloaded by the user.  The skills apply to various daily activities (entertainment, food, transport etc.).   

 

What Netatmo products are compatible with Amazon Alexa?  

To enable users to improve their comfort and security at home, several Netatmo connected devices from the Security and Energy range are compatible with Alexa by activating the. All you have to do is activate the “Legrand-Netatmo-BTicino” skill to make co-ordinating your Smart Home even easier.  

 

Smart Video Doorbell 

Whether you’re expecting friends, family, a package or you’re not sure who rang your doorbell, you can ask your Amazon Echo Show or Echo Spot connected speaker to show you live video from your Smart Video Doorbell.  All you have to do is say: “Alexa, show me the front door.”  What’s more, you can even talk directly to someone at your front door via your Smart Video Doorbell.   

Of course, it’s also possible to interact with Amazon connected speakers that don’t have an integrated screen, such as the Amazon Echo and the Echo Dot. For these speakers, the only option available is to speak via your Smart Doorbell.  

 

Smart Indoor Camera 

To see what’s happening in another room all you have to do is ask Alexa to connect the video from your Smart Indoor Camera to your Echo Spot or Echo Show connected speaker.  Just say: “Alexa show me the living room”.  

 

Smart Outdoor Camera 

Being able to see what’s happening in your garden or on your patio can be very practical to ensure your house is safe at all times.  With the compatibility between the Netatmo Smart Outdoor Camera and Alexa, simply ask the voice assistant to show the live video. For example, you can say: “Alexa, show me the garden”. However, this option is only available for speakers with screens.   

You can also ask Alexa (no matter the type of Amazon speaker used) to turn the integrated lights in your Smart Outdoor Camera on or off.   

 

Smart Thermostat 

All year round, the temperature in your home is important for your comfort.  Thanks to the compatibility of the Netatmo Smart Thermostat and Alexa, you can adopt your home temperature at any time.  All you have to say is: “Alexa, set the temperature to 20 degrees”. Or you can find out what the temperature is by asking: “Alexa, what is the temperature in the hall?”

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