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How to add skills to your Amazon Alexa

There are thousands upon thousands to choose from

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Alexa-powered devices can do a vast number of things, driven by app-like abilities called “skills.” They can enable you to play games, listen to soothing sounds, enjoy an audio book, follow exercise routines, and get daily reminders to follow those routines. If you have the right tech, they can also turn on the lights in your house, start your car, close your garage door, and arm your security system.

In the same way that you’d download apps for your phone, you can download skills for your Alexa device. And they’re very easy to install.

Let’s say, for example, that you’re having trouble sleeping, and want to try to relax with some soothing ocean sounds.

  • On your smartphone, open the Alexa app and tap the menu icon in the screen’s upper left corner, and then tap “Skills & Games.”
  • On the Skills & Games screen, you can tap on “Discover” or “Categories” to browse around. In this case, since you know what you want, tap on the magnifying glass on top to bring up the search field, and type in the phrase “ocean sounds.”
  • Now you get to choose any one of 150 results. When you tap on one of the skills listed, the resulting page will contain a description of that skill, what phrase(s) you can say to start it, basic info such as links to the developer’s privacy policy and terms of use, and customer ratings.
  • If you’ve decided that this is the skill for you, tap the “Enable to Use” button, and you’re done. Say “Alexa, open Ocean Sounds,” sit back and relax.

On your desktop, the process is pretty similar.

  • Point a browser to the Alexa skills page. Categories are on the left nav bar, selected skills are in the main browser window, and you can search using the familiar Amazon search bar at the top of the browser window.
  • Click on the skill you want to install, and then click Enable. That’s it.

You can also install a skill by voice. Say, “Alexa, enable” and add the name of the skill you want to add. If you don’t know what to install, you can ask Alexa to recommend some skills. But be warned: it’s much faster and more convenient to search through the thousands of available skills on your phone or desktop.

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