You Can Now Try Amazon’s Alexa … Without Buying An Echo
Digital Trends

You Can Now Try Amazon’s Alexa … Without Buying An Echo

David Bolton • May 31, 2016

No need for an Echo, Tap or Dot … oh my.

In less than a year, Amazon’s gamble on bringing cloud-based artificial intelligence to the home has paid off in a spectacular fashion, so much so that Google and Apple have made it their mission to build similar devices.

The Amazon Echo is not so much a sleeper hit as one of the more recognizable voice-activated devices in the consumer market.

The major selling point has always been the skills that the Echo can perform through its Alexa Voice Service. The device has over 300 “skills” (kind of like voice-activated apps) available to owners, many of which are used to control connected devices and provide information or services when asked.

Since Amazon made the AVS available to developers in August of last year, developers have built tools that allow owners to ask Alexa—the voice of the assistant—to do anything from play music to order an Uber. Alexa’s capabilities have increased exponentially in recent months, but the one minor drawback was that she was that she was only accessible through the Echo itself.

That may be about to change.

Alexa Lands On The Web Browser

Amazon has created a website called Echoism.io which mimics Alexa’s skills in a browser. The new tool was inspired by a 2015 hackathon in which developers were invited to find new ways to interact with AI, with the aim being to make the virtual assistant available almost anywhere.

According to an Amazon blog post, a developer called Sam Machin built an app called “Alexa in the Browser” at the hackathon which Machin referred to as Alexa Web. This app was then adapted to become Echoism.io.

“Echosim.io lives in your browser, so anyone, anywhere can access it and test their Alexa skills,” said Amazon Alexa’s developer marketing manager Glenn Cameron. “You no longer need an Alexa-enabled device to test your skills. Developers worldwide can use Echosim.io to experience Alexa. Its simplicity makes it easy for anyone to understand what an Echo is and what it does without having to explain Alexa’s unique UX.”

Machin said in a blog post that he built the app to test out Alexa integrations and new skills before submitting them to Amazon. The tool itself is extremely simple and works with the inbuilt microphone on a laptop or a smartphone. You just click on the microphone icon on the website and ask Alexa whatever you need to know.

“You can leave the window open all day in the background and just click when you want to issue a command to Alexa,” wrote Machin. “ You don’t need to use the Alexa keyword, just click the page and hold down your mouse while you are speaking … a bit like a walkie-talkie.”

Building The Amazon Echo Community

Developers can visit the Echoism.io website and log in with their Amazon developer account. The website simulates the look and feel of an Amazon Echo which means that developers can try out existing skills or come up with something completely out of left field. If a developer hasn’t yet built a skill for Alexa, Amazon suggests that they refer to step-by-step tutorials provided by the Alexa Skills Kit. The link for this is here.

The browser version works in exactly the same way as the physical device. When you click and hold the microphone icon, the top of the device—represented through a 3D Javascript animation—lights up to show that Alexa is listening. Ask the question, release the button and Alexa responds. It is not exactly rocket science, but the goal is to now make the AVS available to both the developer community and people who haven’t parted with $180 to make Alexa part of their lives.

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