Smart speakers have become a fact of life in the UK in 2019, so much so that in March this year, they were added to the list of items the government uses to accurately measure the cost of living.
So it’s clear the smart speaker trend isn’t going anywhere soon. But while they’re gracing more homes than ever – 22% of all UK households, according to one study – nearly half of users feel like they aren’t getting the most out of their devices. If you’re in need of a little inspiration on how to use yours, worry not. We’ve spoken to Amazon Echo users across the UK to find out what they do with theirs …
For some, the Echo is the perfect device to keep children entertained on a regular basis. Laura Moross, a PR consultant from London, explains that her family’s Echo is placed in the kitchen, so that she can use it when playing with the children or helping her kids with their homework.
“At breakfast we can shout out song requests – everything from Baby Shark to G-Love and Special Sauce,” she says.
Last Christmas, she says, she used the Echo to amuse her children by asking Alexa to track Santa’s whereabouts around the world, as well as asking: “Alexa, how many sleeps until Christmas?” Meanwhile, her children are also amused to hear the Echo’s various fart noises on demand.
Meanwhile, Govind Dhaliwal, 31, from Milton Keynes, uses the device while he cooks – to convert units of measurement, and also as a timer.
“I can run multiple Alexa timers simultaneously – and I can identify each one by giving them names, that way I know when to check on the food,” he says.
Dhaliwal also uses the BBC Good Food skill from time to time to get specific recipes read out to him. He says that the “hands-free” element helps him to focus on cooking without having to keep washing his hands to revert back to a screen to read the recipe again.
“It’s especially helpful as you can ask Alexa to pause the recipe while you carry out each part of the method and then carry on from where you left off,” he says.
Kate Smith, 35, from London, asks Alexa to turn on her downstairs lights when she walks into the room. This works using a smart plug, which she has connected to her lamps.
“It’s quite nice to walk in and be able to turn on the lamps to provide mood lighting, as we don’t use the main lights as much,” she says.
In addition, Smith asks Alexa to add items to her shopping list, which can also be viewed on the Alexa app on her phone, meaning she doesn’t have to worry about forgetting her shopping list anymore.
Sometimes, her Echo is simply used for fact-checking, she says: “For example, I was talking to my parents about [the TV programme and disaster] Chernobyl and wanted to confirm when the disaster happened.”
For Paul Granger, 67, from Derbyshire, the main reason he uses the Echo is to listen to Audible in his living room.
“Since retiring I have more leisure time, and I enjoy being able to sit down and listen to one of my favourite books, while taking in the view of my garden at the same time,” he says.
In addition, Granger uses Alexa to remind him to take his medication and to ask for the latest news from the Guardian. To do this he asks Alexa to open the Guardian, and then asks for the latest cricket headlines and the latest news on Brexit.
There are also those that rely on Alexa to control their smart homes.
Kelly Morgan, 23, from Hull, has connected her smart speaker to her smart lights, doorbell, camera and lock. This means she can ask Alexa to lock her front door without the need for keys. It also gives her peace of mind when she’s on holiday.
“We keep the Echo on when we’re away, as the doorbell triggers Alexa announcements, and we also have scheduled the lights to go on at certain times to give people the impression that we’re at home,” she says.
As our world becomes more connected, smart speakers will only prove more useful – perhaps, one day, even vital. But even in 2019, a mere five years since Amazon Echo first hit the market and took smart speakers mainstream, the question is less “What can I use my Echo for?” and more “What can’t I use it for?”
Alexa, what’s next?