Getting the Most out of my Amazon Echo: The Roadmap

I’ve got an awesome smart device in the Amazon Echo. Now I need to use it.

Me with my Amazon Echo (and trophy from Hackster)
Me with my Amazon Echo (and trophy from Hackster)

Two weeks ago, I received an Amazon Echo as part of the prize for Hackster’s Internet of Voice challenge (2nd Place1). I checked the mail every day for its arrival, thinking of all the cool things I could and would do with it.

Fast forward to today, and I’m using the Echo daily… but not at its full potential. I use it for timers, connecting my phone via Bluetooth to play music, and to play Jeopardy. That’s not a diss: with four kids, timers are a necessity. Plus, I love Jeopardy. Still, with a device this powerful, I could be doing more. So, I’m putting together a plan to better use the device as a smart home assistant. Here, at a high level, is my roadmap.


Premise: Using Alexa to check my Ooma voicemail

Cost: Low (as I’ve already invested in Ooma, as part of my home technology refresh2)

Complexity: Low – just activate the skill

Potential Impact: Marginal. We only use Ooma because we want a home phone in case there is an emergency and the kids need to call someone. Most calls of significance are made to our cell phones. Plus, we don’t receive too many voicemail messages – our family and friends just send text messages.


Premise: Using Alexa to control light switches

Cost: High – I either have to move to smart bulbs or smart switches. I’ll want to control the lights by more than voice – and the thought of opening my phone to turn off the lights gives me the heebee jeebees – so I’m looking at physical light switches. Those devices, between $30-50 per switch, do not come cheap.

Complexity: Medium– though it’s not hard to replace a light switch, I need to figure out if I have a neutral wire available (some switches require a neutral wire to power the switch).

Potential Impact: High. We’re always running out the door to get someplace, and we never have time to run back in to turn off the lights. Using Alexa to turn off the lights as we leave the house (or using the associated phone app) could shave some dollars off our electric bill. Plus, we would get more out of our bulbs.


Premise: Using Alexa to play music from Amazon music subscription service.

Cost: Low- $3.99 a month (Amazon Echo only)

Complexity: Low to Medium– all I need to do is sign up for the service – though, I assume there are some tracks that I’ll want to upload from my iTunes library (assuming some songs – like Prince’s catalog – are not available in the Amazon library).

Potential Impact: Low. $3.99 isn’t much – but I already pay for Apple’s music subscription service. I’m not sure how I feel about paying for another service that I can only use with my Echo (at the $3.99 price). Plus, I spend a LOT of time managing my music library, and I don’t think Amazon allow me to create and track the same level of metadata. Still – for $3.99, it’s not expensive to at least try out.

There are a few additional integrations I’d like to do, pending skill development (or some time for me to develop my own skill)

  • Connecting my home security system to Alexa – Today, I use the Pulse system from ADT. Supposedly,  ADT is creating a public API for their monitoring devices. If they ever roll that out, I imagine I could easily create a skill for this.
  • Managing my AnyList grocery list with my Echo – The Alexa team just rolled out a beta skill for managing lists; I’m hoping AnyList is an early adopter (as of this writing, the only services using the API are AnyDo and Todolist).
  • Find my iPhone functionality – there are a few hacks that have been built to allow someone to use Alexa to find their iPhones but those hacks are kludgy. I’d love a supported skill from Apple to allow this3
  • Find my keys by using its attached Tile -I hate having to use the Tile app on my phone to find my keys; it would be awesome if I could make this happen with my Echo.


  1. #humblebrag
  2. Step 1 was to replace my cable with Playstation Vue; 2nd step was to cancel my $45 home phone service and switch to Ooma’s VOIP service (approximately $5/month, after spending $80 on the hardware and another $45 to transfer my number).
  3. I think you can use the TrackR app to enable find my phone functionality on an iPhone… will need to check it out.

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