When smartphones hit mainstream consumerism, a popular catchphrase was “there’s an app for that.” An application, shortened to the moniker “app,” is a piece of software designed to function on smartphones and other mobile devices to aid in a task or provide a service. For example, if you need a tool to track local weather or to record your exercise regiment, you can visit an app store (usually already downloaded on your chosen mobile device), download you selected app, and then use it.
While apps are still en vogue, the newest trend revolves around voice-activated assistants. There are may voice-activated assistants on the market, including Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant, but we should not forget the older digital assistants Apple’s Siri and Cortana from Microsoft. Cortana and Siri have limited capabilities and are better used as vocal search conductors than anything else. Google Assistant and Alexa, however, can be programmed with something called “skills.”
Skills are the voice-activated assistant version of apps and there is an entire store for them. Browsing Amazon’s Alexa skill store is very much like browsing the app store. Skills are organized by categories: education, weather, local, news, lifestyle, games/trivia/accessories, business/finance, shopping, and more. The skills only number in the thousands at this point due to the technology’s youth, but their uses are akin to apps. The biggest difference is that they can be controlled with your voice.
Instead of having to turn on your smartphone, then an app, you can now use your voice to command Alexa to tell you the weather, turn the lights off or on in your home, or give you local news. In order to use voice-related technology, you’ll need to buy a compatible device such as the Amazon Echo, Amazon Dot, or the Google Home or download an app on your smartphone. The question remains to be seen if these designs are just a flash in the pan or if something with more aesthetics will be released soon How about the Alexa flowerpot or Google plant?
Whitney Grace, April 7, 2017