It's been a few years since Alexa made her way into our homes, but since then, our lives have gotten even more fun and convenient. Not only does Alexa automate our houses in a truly futuristic way, but she also lets us interact with our technology in ways that weren't possible before. And, considering Amazon's incredible growth in the past decade, there's no denying how important her presence has become.
One of the most useful aspects of Alexa has been her ability to expand her functionality with "skills." Much like the apps on your smartphone, these bite-sized programs pack a ton of new features for Alexa and run the gamut from smart home programs to personal tools, and even games.
Get your tunes throughout your home with the Apple Music skill
You mean it is possible for Alexa and Apple to play nice? As it turns out, Apple's engineered its crown jewel service into a workable skill for Alexa that draws upon the company's incredible catalog of music and playlists.
If you have an iPhone with an existing Apple Music account, you can easily access your entire library of tracks just by using your voice! It's a shame, though, about all the HomePod devices that will go unsold because of this skill. Siri, you have a lot to learn...
Take on trivia with the Question of the Day skill
Who here has a passion for trivia? For those of us who love game shows like Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, this app brings a delightful assortment of questions and quizzes on a range of challenging topics -- including American history, animal facts, and decade-based trivia!
It also can run trivia games for one to four players and is controlled completely by voice. It's brainy fun for the entire family!
Tap into pop culture with the MTV skill
Have you heard the latest buzz on your favorite artists? Want to know which celebs are dating? The MTV skill has it all, and more!
You can get motivational quotes from some of MTV's biggest personalities like Pauly D, get fashion tips from the stars of The Hills, and get the latest in music news and releases. Best of all, you don't even need to be subscribed to MTV on your cable package to get the most out of this app.
Take to the skies with the United Airlines skill
Flying can be a drag, but it doesn't have to be with the help of technology like Alexa. Using the United skill, you can easily ask Alexa about your boarding times, account details, and accommodations using nothing but your voice.
You can also make changes to your account or check-in on the fly right from the comfort of your living room (or wherever it is you're housing your Alexa device).
Find delicious recipes with the Food Network skill
Spice up your day with some helpful, delicious recipes courtesy of Alexa! The Food Network skill gives you access to a range of culinary recommendations and tutorials at your beck and call.
Easily ask Alexa what you should serve up for dinner, or look up specific recipes just by asking. Best of all, you can narrow your results by specific chefs or personalities from the Food Network, making it the perfect companion when you're binging Alton Brown.
Get free samples with the Send Me a Sample skill
Many online products are being marketed with an unusual pink and blue symbol. This is actually the logo of Send Me a Sample, a popular program that connects consumers with samples that companies are distributing for people to try out.
If you see an ad on Instagram with the logo, all you'll need to do is say "Alexa, Send Me a Sample of [product]," and you'll have samples delivered to your door free of charge. It's a super cool way to test the latest products from across the web.
Get caught up with current events using the NPR One skill
No matter where you are in the country, you're probably near an NPR station. Listening is a great way to support local producers and stations, and thanks to its new Alexa skill, NPR can be accessed just by asking for the latest news with your voice. You can tune into trending stories, request specific NPR shows, and even give feedback when you hear a story you enjoy!
Illuminate your home with the Phillips Hue skill
One of the coolest products to hit the market recently is the Phillips Hue lighting system. These energy efficient light bulbs are designed to change color using the included Hue app.
Now, Alexa can get in on the action to make sure one of the coolest parts of your smart home isn't left out. You can use your voice to tell Alexa to change the lighting to specific colors, draw from palettes and moods you've preset, and even turn off the lights -- whether you're in the room or not!
Tease your brain with the Escape the Room skill
Escape rooms are one of the most popular social games on the market right now. If you don't want to track down a brick and mortar location, however, Alexa has you covered with this fun skill. It's a full game that you play with your voice and can provide hours of fun as you try your hardest to escape these puzzling predicaments. Do you have what it takes?
Hear the good word with the YouVersion Bible skill
Now you can listen along to your favorite chapters of The Bible with the help of the YouVersion Alexa skill. Using this skill, you can request specific chapters and verses using only your voice, or even have Alexa select a daily passage to read. You can also import your own personalized reading plans from the YouVersion Bible smartphone app.
Get the cat out of hiding with the Kitty Kitty skill
Cats can be shy, especially around guests. Now, you don't have to go scrambling for them when they can't be found.
The Kitty Kitty skill for Alexa releases a specially engineered sound that cats find attractive, and can draw them out of hiding and into your lap (preferably). This is great for when guests are over and you're keen to show off your friend -- even if they don't want to be seen.
Practice your math skills with the Bamboo Math
How many of you can do calculations in your head? It's probably not a high number, but for the rest of us that rely on a calculator, now we can keep our phones in our pockets with the Bamboo Math skill.
All you need to do is activate Alexa and you can access word problems and simple calculations at a pace you're comfortable with. It's a great tool to refresh your own abilities and can even help the kids as a part of their daily homework.
Keep tabs on your phone with the Phone Finder skill
Losing your phone is a pain in the neck, but if you know it's somewhere in your home, you can ask Alexa to help you find it. This skill is compatible with Android phones, so all you'll need to do is activate Alexa and ask her where it is!
Your device will then chime loud enough for you to locate it. This skill supports up to six devices -- including tablets and computers!
Sleep better with the Sleep Sounds skill
Some people find it easiest to sleep in complete quiet -- but not me! Luckily, there's a range of white noise options available on Alexa, but my personal favorite is Sleep Sounds. Not only is it able to play reliably while you're asleep, but it offers an incredible range of soothing sounds, including rain, wind, fans, airplane idling, and more!
Have some family fun with the Would You Rather skill
Would You Rather is a classic party game, and now it's available for the whole family on Alexa. By opening the skill, Alexa will propose questions to you that you and your family can have fun answering (or shocked at each other's answers!) Best of all, the skill is continuously updated with new questions, making it a fresh experience to play every time.
BONUS: 'Alexa, play the Kim Komando Show'
Yes, you can listen to The Kim Komando Show on Alexa. New episodes are available every Saturday. Just say, "Alexa, play the Kim Komando Show."
Get radio broadcasts on Alexa, Siri and Google Home
My listeners already know that radio isn't dead. It's the only place you can go for free information on local events, news, weather, sports and traffic. Did you know that you can tap into free local radio stations through your Google Home, Alexa and Siri devices?