Amazon Alexa: What you need to know

So you already know everything there is to know about Amazon Alexa, eh? Good for you. It's important to be able to turn lights off and on and ask questions and play music and all that stuff. It's that sort of the thing that the Amazon Echo was made for. It's that sort of thing that makes smartphones smarter.

Of course, we have Alexa Skills to thank for it.

OK, what is an Alexa Skill and why do I want one?

A "Skill" is just Amazon's way of saying three little letters — API. That stands for Application Programming Interface, and it's what lets one piece of software talk to another. Or, more important, it's how developers learn to make one piece of software talk to another.

You'll often hear of "third-party skills," but that's actually redundant. A "Skill," by definition, is something that's not built into the Alexa software by default. It's something extra that you have to enable so that the Alexa device — whether it's an Echo speaker or a Fire HD tablet or whatever — can do more than what it started out with.

Where do I get more Alexa Skills?

This part's easy. You enable new Skills from Amazon itself. Ready? Here's a big link (but be sure to come back here when you're done):

What sort of Alexa Skills are there?

Strap in. There are a ton of Skills for Alexa. How useful they actually are is another question entirely.

There are Skills that help Alexa answer questions. And there are Skills that let you do things through Alexa. The former is wide open and full of things that might or might not be useful. You can add new sources to your daily briefing, or learn facts about marsupials. Or whatever.

Arguably more useful are Skills that let you use your voice to control things. Want to control Philips Hue smart lights? You'll need the Skill for that. Want to order an Uber through Alexa on your Echo? (Yes, that's a real sentence.) There's a Skill for that. Order a Pizza? Done.

How do I manage my Skills?

Two places to do this: You can use the Amazon website in a browser.

Or you can use the Alexa app itself, either on Android, or on iOS.

The experience is pretty much the same — I tend to use whatever's in front of me at the time.

What are the best Alexa Skills?

That's a trick question. The best Alexa Skill is the one you use all the time and actually find useful. There's no one "best" Skill. Or 10 best Skills. Everyone's answer is going to be different.

Me? I'd start by customizing the Daily Briefing. Don't like a specific source in it? Change it!

Still need more on Alexa Skills?

Alexa Skills are pretty simple to understand — it's just that there are a million of them. (More or less.)

For more, check out the links below. Good luck!

Phil Nickinson