Turn on an Amazon Echo Look and you’ll be delighted with a range of news headlines and silly videos worth watching. This morning I saw a baby kangaroo’s first steps and a dubstep motorcycle battle. One thing you won’t see on the resting screen of the Echo Show is an invitation to try some of the roughly 15,00 skills in the Alexa Skills Store.
That’s likely because even though the Echo Show came out a month ago, only a handful of skills have made the change from being audio-only to incorporating visual elements like photos, videos, or interactive lists to accompany Alexa’s voice.
To be sure, some fun and smart skills with visual elements are available today. Capital One and other financial services launched skills to help you keep track of your money. You can watch video news updates from CNN and CNBC, and Food Network and Allrecipes greatly improved their skills with instructional videos and photos of recipes.
The Jeopardy skill is also better, now posing questions with that same deep blue background with white letters we’ve seen on television for decades.
Only about a dozen skills with visual elements were available when Echo Show launched in late June, and skills with visual elements do not yet appear to be widespread.
Call on the vast majority of skills today while using an Echo Show and all you see is a dark gray screen and the skill’s logo. So many of these experiences could be so much better. Here are a few popular skills that should have been visual yesterday.
This Day in History
From the History Channel, This Day in History has been one of the most popular skills available. Since its launch late last year, I’m not sure it has ever left the list of most popular skills listed on the Skills Store website. It can tell you about dozens of historic events for any day of the year.
The skill appears to draw on the deep vein of facts and information gathered in the This Day in History section of the history.com website. There, each day comes with a video recap, like a “this day in history” highlight reel. This could be an amazing skill if photos or videos became part of the experience.
Dr. AI by HealthTap
This skill helps you identify why you’re feeling ill by telling Dr. AI your symptoms. Say you want to find out what this rash you have is all about. Instead of reading off a list of seven qualities like bumpy or flaking, which is what it tried to do when I spoke to the skill this morning, showing me photos could be a lot more helpful. And since HealthTap specializes in connecting patients with clients for video chat, Dr. AI could show you some of the doctors willing to talk with you about that rash.
National Geographic Geo Quiz
This is the only skill from National Geographic in the Skills Store. It asks you six questions a day about the kinds of things you might find in a National Geographic magazine or see on its TV channel, and it could be a lot of fun. National Geographic’s entire reputation is built on stunning images. Using this skill without photos or video doesn’t make much sense.
When I ask the Fitbit skill how I slept last night, I don’t want to see a transcript of what Alexa is reading to me. I want to see visual representations of those numbers, or even better, how I’m doing overall. Fitbit has this real opportunity to become a very smart intelligent assistant or coach that helps people practice personalized, preventive health care. That’s never going to happen if Fitbit doesn’t do more to make recommendations based on data the app has already gathered about me.
In other words, don’t just tell me how I’ve slept tonight. Look at the past six months and show me my monthly averages or make recommendations based on insights Fitbit has learned about me and others in all that data it sucks up every day. Visuals that take the long view, coupled with coaching or recommendations, could redefine how people think of Fitbit and help people take more steps toward health habits.
Like many of the skills around food or perishable items in the skills store, the 1-800-Flowers skill makes preset orders. Too bad it doesn’t show you any pictures or give you options for variations on your typical order.
1-800-Flowers gives you options for four types of flower arrangements: roses, birthday, love and romance, and thank you. None of these come with images, just descriptions. Granted, they’re pretty good descriptions, but just like food, nothing tops the image of the flowers you’re about to purchase. A large bouquet of roses goes for $84.99 before taxes, delivery, or service charges are tagged on. A picture would likely close a lot more deals than a description.
Even if 1-800-Flowers chose to share pictures of upsell items only, seeing the bouquet you’re about to shell out a lot of money for, compared to prices if you walk out the door to a local shop, matters.
This might be the biggest duh of the bunch. Of course the Lyft skill should be visual — though it doesn’t have to mimic the visual experience you have on the Lyft app today. It could do things like serve up a list of drivers based on distance and review, or show you cool cars that could pick you up.
The same is likely true as it relates to the series of skills available that can tell you when the next bus or train is coming.
I’m just going to leave this one here. Yes, the skill for one of the biggest flight, hotels, and car rental search engines should be able to show you pictures of the place you want to stay or serve up cards for your potential next trip.
In virtually every instance shared above, it’s not that each of these skills needs production-level video or perfect imagery. They just need something. Amazon, which still considers Alexa with the Echo Show a voice-first experience, has made templates available to developers.
Ensuring that these sorts of skills made by third parties become a part of the visual Echo Show experience could be increasingly important: Google is planning to bring the visual search elements Google Assistant uses to Chromecasts later this year, and Facebook is said to be working on a smart speaker and video chat device that could be available as soon as next spring.
While many have been impressed by Amazon’s ability to amass an ecosystem of roughly 15,000 skills for Alexa devices, a year from now (or sooner), it could be that the number of skills that have made the migration from voice-only to visual that matters most.