The first few days I spent with my Amazon Echo after grabbing it on sale last month were pretty magical: asking Alexa for the weather, making Alexa tell me jokes, making Alexa apologize for telling me bad jokes, and arguing with a talking cylinder about what is, and is not, minimalist music.
But a lot of the real firepower behind the Echo is geared toward controlling your smart home. And seeing that I rent and don’t plan on staying in this apartment forever, I don’t find the idea of investing in smart-home tech just so I can ask Alexa to turn on the lights and start brewing a cup of coffee that appealing.
Luckily, you can quickly improve what you can do with the Echo thanks to its Skills feature, which allows any user to create add-on apps for the Echo. We’ve gathered together a few picks that should be useful for anyone in NYC, even if you haven’t thrown down $60 for a Philips Hue lightbulb.
Get the status of any subway train.
Conductor: Echo comes pre-loaded with information about car traffic, but has nothing to say out of the box when you ask it if the C line is actually running. Conductor solves that. Its responses can be as vague as actual MTA announcements (e.g., “The 7 train is currently experiencing delays” without telling you in what direction) meaning you’ll probably need to pull out your phone or laptop to find out more, but it’s a nice way to double check how your commute is looking before you head out the door.
Get the status of one very specific subway train.
L Train: Only curious about one line in particular? Think the world begins at Union Pool and ends at Radegast? This app will tell you the running status of the L train, and in a fair amount of detail. It’s the best-designed subway app for the Echo right now: You can set your home station, and ask at any time when the next train will arrive. If there are delays on the L train, the app will also inform you exactly where and why the delays are happening. Too bad it’ll be useless come 2019.
Get a car outside your apartment like some kind of big shot.
Uber: Nothing makes you feel quite so much like a high-powered exec as yelling you need a car outside, pronto. While there’re still a few small quirks with the skill — make sure your home address on the Echo and on the Uber app match up — it quickly summons a car to your door, lets you know whether surge pricing is in effect, and lets you rate your driver once you get back home.
Lyft: Uber’s younger, more casual competitor that may or may not have smoked a little weed before picking you up actually has the better-designed Echo skill. You can have it give you an estimate of what your fare will be and find out how long it’ll take you to get to wherever you’re going before you even order a car. Especially useful for anyone who has decided to spring for a Lyft Line into work, which hooks up other ride-sharers all headed in the same direction for their morning commute.
See whether you need to move your car to some empty space while you listen to Brian Lehrer for 90 minutes
NYC Status: Stuck in the fun limbo of street parking in NYC? This app will let you know if alternate-side street parking is in effect. It’ll also alert you when garbage collection is happening and whether there are any school closures that day. It may not be as useful in the dog days of summer, but come blizzard season, wouldn’t you rather hear about alternate-side street parking being suspended from Alexa than de Blasio?
Find every greenmarket in New York State
New York Greenmarkets: Headed upstate and looking for some summer corn? The New York Greenmarkets is an exhaustive list of what you’ll find in each county of New York, from Allegany to Tioga. Find out market hours, season of operation, and exact location. Never take a road trip without heirloom tomatoes again.
Entertain and/or annoy your friends
Seinfeld Fan Trivia: Eventually, there comes a lull in every dinner party. But, and follow me here, what if you could play a fun round of Seinfeld Fan Trivia with a talking speaker? Put on your thinking cap, and get ready to see how you know about the linchpin of ‘90s NBC’s Must-See TV. How much money does Jerry give Elaine on her birthday? What was George’s puffy jacket made out of? What was Kramer carrying when the gang tried to find their car in the parking garage? You’ll discover who knows everything about the show about nothing, and also which of your friends hate trivia games.
Use the power of random-number generation to become blindingly rich
Powerball Number Generator: As I said at the top, if you really want to use every bit of an Amazon Echo, you’re going to need a smart home, and for that you’re going to need to own. For any non-finance industry folks out there hoping to land a $3 million brownstone, there’s always playing the lotto. The Powerball Number Generator will give you randomly generated numbers to play. And, statistically speaking, you have a better chance of not having to split your winnings by playing random numbers. This is because when picking their own numbers, people tend to gravitate toward certain digits (e.g., 1 through 12 for birth months). Give Alexa a chance — it may pay off big. Bonus: If you win, you can hire a real-life version of Alexa called a “personal assistant.”