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Amazon Alexa will let you check bank balances, order food and more with 10,000 skills

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Whether you're moving house and changing jobs, or simply flipping a coin to decide what's for dinner, Amazon's talkative smart assistant Alexa aims to help you navigate through life's challenges.

Arriving locally in February to power Amazon's Echo smart speakers, Alexa will join Google Assistant, Apple's Siri and others jostling to be your omnipresent digital assistant. Designed to hang on your every word, the challenge they all face is to remain genuinely useful once the novelty of a talking smart speaker wears off.

Beyond answering trivia questions such as "How long is the Sydney Harbour Bridge?", Alexa supports 10,000 "skills" in Australia. The bulk are Amazon's own, such as creating shopping and to-do lists, setting alarms and timers, checking calendar appointments and requesting weather forecasts.

Alexa recently gained the ability to recognise different voices and deliver personalised results for each member of the household, but it remains to be seen whether this feature will be available in Australia at launch.

Rather than bombarding Alexa with questions first thing every morning, "Alexa, what's my flash briefing?" or "Alexa, what's in the news?" offers a quick summary of the important news of the day. Along with weather forecasts and commute times, flash briefings can be customised to include news bulletins from SBS and Macquarie National News.

Amazon offers a vast library of third-party skills which can be added to your daily flash briefing, from sports reports and TV guides to inspirational quotes or entire podcasts.


Alexa can also stream music to Echo speakers around the house, as well as control lights and other smart home gear from the likes of international tech giants like Belkin WeMo, Philips Hue, D-Link, LifX and Samsung SmartThings.

Instead of expecting you to control all your smart devices individually, Alexa supports "routines" which let you automatically configure multiple devices and request details like weather forecasts and commute times, all by using a single phrase like "Alexa, start my day" or "Alexa, good night".

Alexa is not just the realm of multinationals, with Amazon's digital assistant also open to local businesses looking to get a foothold in Australian smart homes.

At least two dozen Australian-based skills will be available at launch from the country's largest corporations such as telcos Telstra, Optus and Amaysim. Qantas, Virgin Australia and Flight Centre are also onboard, along with banks Westpac and NAB, and energy providers AGL and EnergyAustralia.

Their Alexa skills will let Australians query Alexa about their bank balances, flight details, energy bills and phone accounts without reaching for the smartphone in their pocket.

Echo speaker owners need to add specific skills to their account, such as "Alexa, enable NAB skill". From here they can link Alexa to their bank account and use natural language commands such as "What's my savings account balance?", "How much do I owe on my credit card?" or "Did I get paid this week?"

"This is NAB's first step in providing 'authorised information' for customers, after we were the first major Australian bank to launch our Google Assistant app a few months ago, which focused on publicly available information," says Jonathan Davey, NAB Executive General Manager, Digital & Innovation.

"In the future, we certainly see this experience turning into one where you can pay bills, make funds transfers or even purchase items at the command of your voice."

Beyond the big end of town, the new generation of web-savvy startups are also lining up to embrace Alexa in Australia.

Sydney-based Airtasker and Hipages turn Alexa into a digital concierge for tapping into the gig economy, letting Australians ask Alexa to find someone to mow the lawn, repair a broken fence or fix a leaky tap.

Meanwhile Alexa can call up more than 50,000 recipes from, order Domino's Pizza or else make restaurant reservations via Dimmi and check movie times with Village. If you can't make up your mind, you can ask Alexa to flip a coin, roll a die or pick a random number to help settle an argument. When it's time to leave the house, Alexa can call an Uber or check public transport information via NextThere.

Amazon's all-knowing assistant can also help when it comes to more far important decisions than what's for dinner.

Alexa can search Seek for certain jobs in specific locations, reading out a list and letting you request more details via email, plus you can add a weekly employment market to your flash briefing. Meanwhile REA Group offers a flash briefing on the property market for when you decide that it's time to upgrade to a bigger smart home.