Essential Apps for Your Smart Home Hub
If you were lucky enough to receive a Amazon Echo or Google Home this holiday season, chances are you’re still getting to know your new smart home speaker. (If you weren’t so lucky, maybe treat yourself to the present Santa forgot?) Below we’ve collected a few of our favorite apps for these in-home hubs that will allow you to unleash their full potential.
Note: We’re eschewing the the more obvious (yet certainly useful!) individual service-control apps like Philips Hue (lights) or Nest (temperature) for the more overlooked and under-appreciated apps. And while we’re saying apps, Amazon calls Alexa’s (the brains behind the Echo) third-party services “skills” while Google’s Home refers to them as “actions,” as they are both engaging in the marketing illusion that you have an artificially intelligent entity in your home and not a short and stout, yet undeniably smart, speaker.
Amazon Echo With Alexa
How do you enable a new Alexa skill on your Echo or Echo Dot? Amazon has a handy guide for the painless process here.
Benefitting the Echo’s early presence on the market and embrace by third-party developers, Amazon’s Alexa Skills store currently sports 4,000+ “skills.” They range, as you might imagine, from the life-improving to the ludicrous. Here are a few you should ask Alexa to enable.
While we said we would avoid showcasing the oft-recognized single smart home service skills, we’d be remiss if we didn’t tell you about Yonomi. We’ve sung the praises of IFTTT in the past and Yonomi performs a similar function for Alexa. With Yonomi you can create “routines” between different smart home products, Philips Hue light bulbs and a Nest thermostat for example, and with a simple voice command like “Alexa, turn on nighttime routine,” shut off your living room lights and lower the temperature everywhere but the bedroom.
For vehicle-owning city dwellers, the pain of alternate side parking is all too real. Enable theAutomatic skill for Alexa, along with the corresponding in-car adapter ($99), to help combat this near daily nuisance, by at least not having to remember where you parked. Once Automatic is enabled, simply ask “Alexa, where’s my car?” to learn your cross streets. Automatic will also allow you to ask Alexa about your fuel level and distance traveled over a given time period.
For new parents, keeping track of important newborn information is a sleep-deprived struggle. With the BabyMate skill, parents can simply speak the relevant data (“Record a bottle of 150 ml”) directly to their Echo and have the records read back to their awakeness-addled brains (“How many bottles today?”).
On the more “fun” side of functional, there is The Bartender skill, an essential app for aspiring mixologists and happy hour enthusiasts alike. Once enabled, The Bartender can share over 12,000 cocktail recipes, by name or ingredients, on voice-command. And if you find yourself stuck with some questionable drink elements, The Bartender can help you there too: “Alexa, ask the bartender, for a drink with sherry and orange juice.”
If you’re looking for fitting refreshment without getting your hands dirty, the MySomm skill will offer wine pairings when prompted, while the What Beer skill shares hops-based beverages that will go well with your meal.
Perhaps the finest skill is a skill that maintains the peace. Enable the Board Games Answers skill and have Alexa quash a dispute in its infancy by clarifying the finer points of Monopoly.
And finally, because you want Alexa to keep learning (and want to keep checking out new skills yourself), make sure you enable the Skill Finder skill, which will share the Skill of the Day, as well as the newest skills, skill by category or the most popular skills, when prompted.
The Google Home comes ready with a robust set of voice-command “conversation actions.” Out of the box you can ask the search brand’s digital assistant to multiply 462 by 12, convert dollars to pounds, report the traffic on the way to work or roll a die of as many sides as you desire, among many other other options.
But when it comes to third-party “actions,” the relatively recently released Home pales in comparison to Alexa’s skills, offering less than 60 third-party actions to date.
Google promises a plethora of more actions in the new year. The company just opened up an “Actions on Google” platform to developers in December and there is every reason to believe that third-parties will want to build for the globally known brand’s smart home hub.
Still, among the Home’s current slim pickings there are a few gems.
To add an action to your Home, locate the action under the Services section of the Settings menu of the Google Home app.
And what should you start with? How about the And Chill action, which will remove the trickiest part of watching Netflix by offering suggestions of what you should watch on the streaming service. Simply have a short conversation with And Chill, and the service will make recommendations based on your discussion.
If you’re feeling more productive than couch potato, adding the Todoist action will let you stay on top of your to-do list with ease, adding and completing items with a simple “Ok, Google.”
The Genius action will let you identify that ear worm you heard on the radio (The Google Home can also act as a radio, by the way) by lyrics alone and the SongPop action will let you further explore your musical curiosity with a “listen and guess the song” pop quiz that is comprised of thousands of playlists.
You can indulge you own hypochondria and misdiagnose yourself into hysteria (or just check on drug side effects) with the WebMD action.
At the moment, Alexa may be winning the action/skill game, but if you received the Home for Christmas, there’s no reason to be glum. The pre-built Google Home actions are impressive (and include a fair amount of Easter eggs; Ask Google to do a barrel roll) and the new year promises to be full of new third-party actions.