3/21/2019

Is Amazon Changing How We Use Our Kitchens? Just Ask Alexa.

Alexa is listening. And responding. And changing the way we work in our kitchen forever. Alexa, of course, is the virtual assistant inside the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot speakers. It comes with considerable capabilities already built in and users can add from a fast-growing selection of “skills” — apps developed by third parties and available for downloading onto the speakers and smartphones. Alexa speakers are popping up everywhere, and the amazing ability to provide real-time information, podcasts and streaming audio on just about any topic imaginable is not restricted to the speakers themselves. Amazon also provides a mobile app for Apple and Android phones that requires the user to simply push a button on the screen to activate Alexa’s listening mode. Otherwise, simply say “Alexa” and the speaker turns on, ready for your command. Amazon announced in January that it had sold more than 100 million Alexa-enabled devices. That includes the Dots and newcomers like the Echo Show, a smart home hub which basically adds a video screen to the speaker.

The kitchen is a natural home for Alexa technology, and not just for the Amazon devices themselves. That’s because appliances that support Alexa also are coming onto the market. Every major manufacturer either is on board or can be expected to follow suit. Consumer expectations would seem to dictate that such functionality is offered, and the technology doesn’t add that much to the cost. What price difference there is now between smart and traditional appliances will most likely shrink, if that trajectory repeats what’s happened over the years with televisions and computers, to name just two examples of advancing technology and falling prices.

In the meantime, now’s a good time to get up to speed on how Alexa is already showing its skills in the kitchen. Here are a few examples:

  • “Alexa, set a timer for 5 minutes”
    That’s a simple but very helpful instruction that shows just one way the Echo devices can be valuable kitchen assistants. Simply tell Alexa to let you know when five minutes are up. You can also ask during those five minutes just how much time is left, or pause the process and resume when you’re ready. The Alexa app itself has a Reminders & Alarms selection just for that purpose, or it can give orders to other Alexa-supported devices coming on the market, including separate timers and timers embedded in ovens.
  • “Alexa, how many teaspoons are in a cup?”
    Or grams in an ounce. Or ounces in a pint. Just ask. The device knows. Asking Alexa about measurements is an easy way to not only get useful information but to appreciate the unprecedented utility of this piece of modern technology. Even more complex questions can be asked, such as “how much does a half-cup of butter weigh?”
  • “Alexa, how do I make a pumpkin pie?”
    Alexa knows recipes. More specifically, the Alexa AllRecipes app does, and is activated by simply asking, “Alexa, open the AllRecipes skill.” From there, you can ask for instructions about a specific item, such as making a pumpkin pie, and have it read aloud to you while you follow along. You can control the process by asking Alexa to repeat a step, or go to the next step, or to skip something. You can also instruct the device to send the recipe to a smartphone to take shopping.
  • “Alexa, what should we have for lunch?”
    There are countless developers who are busy building new Alexa skills. Just one example: Meal Suggester. It’s what it sounds like. Download it onto the device and ask for suggestions.
  • Substitutions and Calorie Counts
    Don’t have the right ingredients on hand? Ask Alexa to pull up the Ingredient Sub skill and then ask for an alternative. Another available skill: calorie counts. Simply ask how much is in a food item and the speaker shares the facts.
  • Refrigerators, Stocked, Loaded and Leftovers
    Manufacturers are rolling out smart refrigerators that, for instance, allow the Alexa user to adjust temperatures and even switch a freezer compartment into a fridge. Alexa also comes in handy for those responsible for keeping the refrigerator stocked. There are skills that keep running shopping lists and that can be accessed at the store. Alexa also has the skill to answer intelligently when asked if a certain food left in the fridge is still safe to eat.
  • Food and Wine Pairings, and the Alexa Bar
    Alexa skills are out there for wine and food pairings, offering varying levels of detail about the suggested wines. There are also skills that take the user through how to make the perfect cocktail after suggesting one in the first place.
  • Plug into Outlet Safety
    Clever designers are now offering products that use Alexa functionality to extend home safety. A good example is the “smart plug” that makes any outlet Alexa-compatible. Plug any appliance into it and you can turn the power off and on to that plug through the Alexa app on your phone, the online app, or through the Amazon Echo itself. Don’t worry about whether the auto shutoff on your crockpot actually works. Turn it off yourself from anywhere.
  • Let Alexa Entertain You
    The Amazon Echo and Echo Dot speakers are just that, speakers. Use them to keep yourself entertained or informed while cooking or simply enjoying a meal at the kitchen table. These devices integrate with Amazon Music Unlimited, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Pandora and subscription-based Prime Music for on-demand songs, albums, and playlists.
  • The Alexa Skill(ed) Dishwasher
    There already are Alexa-supported dishwashers on the market that will start up with a simple voice command through Alexa, and some also allow the user to specify which washing mode and timing cycles to use. Watch for models, too, that keep track of usage and can alert you to buy more detergent or just go ahead and order it through Amazon Prime accounts.
  • “Alexa, order a pizza.”
    When cooking at home seems less than appetizing, and the same for dirty dishes, use the slick integration between Alexa and wireless phone services to simply order out.
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