Let's Meet Alexa

Alexa, who are you?

Chances are you probably already know about Alexa. Just in case, though, let’s take a look at what the Alexa ecosystem is all about.

Alexa is an intelligent personal assistant developed by Amazon and made popular by the Amazon Echo and the Echo Dot devices.

An important thing to understand is the distinction between Alexa, the voice assistant, and the devices which run Alexa, like the Echo.

Alexa itself resides in the cloud. The device is just a microphone and a speaker that connect to the Alexa service over the internet to process requests. We will see how exactly this happens in a future section.

What is Alexa capable of?

Voice-based interfaces are used for a variety of tasks, from setting alarms to giving the latest news.

Here’s a list of everything that Alexa can do:

  • Voice Interaction Music Playback
  • Provide real-time information
  • Control several smart home devices
  • Allow customers to interact with third-party apps called Alexa Skills (like the ones you will be building in this course)

Understanding the two sides of the Alexa ecosystem

Let’s take a closer look at the constituents of the Alexa ecosystem. This will enable us to have a broader understanding as an Alexa developer.

Alexa Voice Service (AVS)

The Alexa Voice Service (AVS) can be considered the Alexa “brain” that runs in the cloud. AVS is flexible enough that it allows third parties to add intelligent voice control to their device. All we need is a wifi chip, a speaker, and a microphone to make an Alexa-enabled device.

We won’t be looking at AVS in this course, but it’s worth looking into if you are interested in building your own Alexa-powered smart devices, like smart bulbs and more.

Alexa Skills Kit (ASK)

Alexa may be available through many different devices, but what content do users have access to apart from the built-in functionalities? In short, they have access to Alexa Skills. Skills are capabilities that developers give Alexa to do different things.

Think of Skills as apps for the Alexa ecosystem. When one buys a new mobile phone, it comes preloaded with some basic functionalities like a camera, calendar, and contacts. For any other use case, the user must download an app. Similarly, Alexa has inbuilt features like timers, reminders, and weather updates. For any other functionality, we need to enable a Skill from the Skill Store.

For example, if I have a donut shop and I want my customers to be able to buy donuts with Alexa, I would build an Alexa Skill. Using this new Skill, the users can then say something like, “Alexa, ask Ashish’s Donut Shop to purchase donuts.”

The Alexa ecosystem offers the Alexa Skills Store which allows users to enable Skills, much like the Play Store for Android users.