Every time Amazon has news about the Echo it likes to trot out the latest stat for the number of skills (or apps) available for its digital assistant Alexa. The most recent figure was the impressive-sounding “7,000-plus,” but anyone who actually uses an Echo knows that the vast majority of these skills are useless.
Some are bad because they take longer to use than your phone or computer; some are bad because of the limitations of the platform; and some are bad because they’re just poorly imagined, designed, and executed. Voice interfaces may be the future of home computing, but a recent report found that there’s only a 3 percent chance that Echo and Google Assistant users will open an app again after the first week they download it.
With that in mind, I thought I’d trawl the Alexa app for some of the worst skills out there. These all come from the UK version of Alexa, so feel free to suggest your own in the comments.
Fact skills are to the Echo as fart apps were to the iPhone: ubiquitous, low-grade trashware that’s simple to make and novel for two minutes. There are dozens of fact skills available, offering enlightening tidbits on topics including cats, dogs, lipstick, frogs, Korea, apples, and Belfast. There’s even one called “Laura facts,” which was presumably made for Laura’s amusement, and which offers about five nuggets of wisdom. (Did you know Laura’s doing a marathon next year and totally loves her nieces and nephew?) But, my favorite entry in this genre has to be Egg Facts, solely for the reason that a) I can’t get enough of those egg facts, and b) when I have visitors around, I like to break the ice by saying “can I offer you an egg fact in this trying time?”
Aaaand speaking of fart skills, there are, of course, several available. My top (bottom?) pick is called 4AFart, which gets points for having a name that actually makes sense when using Alexa’s clunky command phrasing (you get to say: “Alexa, ask 4 a fart”) and also for the cheerful inanity of its description. “With random farts of varying levels of repugnance, there’s never a dull moment! You’ll be provided with hours of entertainment and education for the whole family.”
Look, I love cork ornaments as much as the next person. My house is an extremely flammable shrine to the art of cork ornamentation, and when I need a new cork fix, I like to browse the many fine products available at www.corkornaments.com. But do I really need an Alexa skill to tell me what the deal of the day is at a website that is also my homepage? Sometimes, I think technology just feeds our worst addictions.
The Grand Tour
This one makes the list for showing just how terrible skills can be even if there’s money behind them. This is the official app for Amazon’s tentpole streaming show,
Top Gear The Grand Tour, and so you’d think they’d have worked out a decent game plan. But, open it up and all you get is some tepid banter from Clarkson, Hammond, and May, all three sounding like they’ve got guns to their heads (or at a least a big pile of money sitting just out of reach). The content, such as it is, consists of a trivia game that unlocks “exclusive videos” and hints about upcoming episodes. This week’s hint for episode 11? “Look out for new cars.” Stunning.
Remember Your Keys
This is a skill that does one thing and one thing only: reminds you about your keys. Ask Alexa to “open remember your keys” and it will say: “Do you have your keys?” If you say “yes” it will tell you to go on your way. If you say “no” it will say: “Go find your keys. You can’t leave without them!” That’s about it. There’s no extra functionality, no connection to a Bluetooth tracker stuck on your keyring. I can actually imagine this being useful if you’re an anxious individual who checks their pockets twice and thrice before leaving the house (like I do), but even then, a Post-it note stuck on frame of your door is cheaper.
At first I thought this skill was some sort of Cold War-era signaling device for spies to make contact with. I installed it, asked Alexa to “open Moon age” and received the cryptic reply: “Moon age is 24.” I was baffled, but after a quick Google worked out that “Moon age” refers to where the Moon is in its monthly cycle, rather than, you know, the age of the Moon. I admit this skill might actually be useful if you need to know the age of the Moon on a regular basis, but its purpose confused me for five minute longer than I would have liked and I am, at heart, a very petty individual.
- Password Generator — reads out random 12-character alphanumeric strings and nothing else
- Warden — tells you whether DMX is in jail or not. I’m not sure where it gets this information from
- Guildford Bin Collection — I don’t even live in Guildford so what the fuck