Use Alexa Without An Echo Device

Don't have an Echo and want to use an Alexa skill? No problem. This article shows you methods for using Alexa even if you don't have the Echo device. Have you developed an Amazon skill and have people that would like to use it, but they don't own any Echo devices? Then you're at the right place. This article illustrates three ways users can access Alexa skills using either a computer, smartphone, or tablet.

Introduction

 
Have you developed an Amazon skill and have people that would like to use it, but they don't own any Echo devices? Then, you're at the right place. This article illustrates three ways users can access Alexa skills using either a computer, smartphone, or tablet.
 

Why Use Alexa without Echo?

 
The need for this arose after I released the skill, Eye of the Elder Gods. It's a game styled after the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books where you play the role of a university professor facing unspeakable evil and it features voice actors. A number of the participants do not own Echo devices and want to hear their contributions.
 
Another situation arose from customer meetings where I had to demonstrate an Alexa skill on location. While I did bring an Echo Dot along, there was no guarantee that I would be able to successfully connect it to either the customer's Wi-Fi network or pair it to my smartphone. I needed back up options.
 
Further, if you are developing an Alexa skill for a production deployment for a business, it needs to go through a testing process. Buying Echo devices for the entire time may not be practical. The options that follow provide viable alternatives. These samples show how to launch Eye of the Elder Gods. Substitute the name of your Alexa Skill.
 

Echosim.io

 
Echosim.io is a website that acts as a proxy for an Echo device. Log in with your Amazon account credentials. EchoSim uses Login with Amazon. It's Amazon's OAuth 2.0 implementation similar to Facebook's and Google's Single Sign-On offerings. Amazon users can manage which services have access to their account on the Amazon account page under Other Accounts -> Login with Amazon.
 
 
 
After granting EchoSim permission to use Alexa Voice Services and Alexa Account Connection, click on the microphone icon and hold the button down while speaking. Optionally, hold down the space bar while speaking. When interacting with EchoSim, and clicking and holding the microphone icon or holding down the spacebar, the user does not need to start their statements with "Alexa." Echo devices require wake words. Activating the microphone in EchoSim substitutes for the wake word.
 
The screenshot below shows the console with JSON requests and responses. It's helpful for debugging and data validation. Selecting the Console switch in the upper right enables it. It is not enabled by default. 
 
 
 
While the console displays much of the same information displayed in the Alexa Test Console, it does not match the same format of Alexa request and response messages. Instead, it uses the SpeechSynthesizer message format available in the Amazon Voice Service API. AVS is used by hardware manufacturers to enable voice services in a device, like a voice-activated GPS.
 
Interaction with EchoSim is almost the same as an Echo device, except for the re-prompt. If the Alexa Skill expects a response, and the user does not respond within several seconds, Alexa reminds the user of available options. EchoSim does not support the re-prompt and so may not be the ideal option for a comprehensive test, but enough to demo the skill.
 
Unlike the other options, EchoSim lets the user switch between English locals and other languages. 
 
Selecting the Language drop-down lets the user test out the skill in other languages and locales, even if the Alexa Skill does not support it.
 
Make sure your users know which locales and languages are supported. If the user selected an unsupported locale or language, it will say "Sorry, I don't know that." or something similar in the selected language and locale. 
 

Alexa App on iOS and Android

 
Setting up an Echo device requires the Alexa app. Any home user with an Echo device has the Alexa app on their smartphone or tablet; however, an Echo device is not required to install the Alexa app. It's available for free any iOS and Android devices and it provides direct interaction with Alexa. 
 
Locate the Alexa app in the Apple or Android app store and install it. The screenshot below is from the view of my Apple Store. 
 
 
 
Launch the Alexa app and log in with your Amazon account. On the home screen, select the speech icon in the bottom center.
 
 
 
Then, speak the invocation name of your skill. In my case, it's "Open Eye of the Elder Gods." Like, EchoSim, starting the phrase with "Alexa" is not required. Selecting the speech icon substitutes for the wake word. 
 
Unlike EchoSim, it does state the re-prompt returned by the Skill if the user does not respond. 
 

Alexa App on the Windows Store

 
 An Alexa app is available in the Windows Store.
  1. In Windows 10 Pro or Home edition, type Windows Store in the desktop search box.


  2. Select the Search option on the upper right and enter "Alexa." 


  3. Select and install the Alexa app. It will download and launch.

  4. The Alexa App will request permission to access your microphone.


  5. Sign in with your Amazon account.


  6. Step through the prompts and grant the requested permissions.


  7. Select the icon on the bottom of the screen and say "Alexa, open Eye of the Elder Gods." Substitute the name of your Alexa Skill.

The Alexa Windows Store app handles re-prompts. It's more forgiving than EchoSim. If the user invokes an Alexa Skill that maintains a session and an ongoing dialog, they don't need to keep pressing the speech icon for each interaction. On the other hand, it doesn't let the user change the locale or language. It applies the locale of the Windows user. 
 

Summary

 
Ideally, your users and testers have Echo devices. If not, they can use EchoSim.io or the Alexa app available in the Apple App Store, Andriod App Store, or Windows Store. If you need to demo an Alexa app for a customer and have issues connecting to your Echo device on location, these three options are viable backup alternatives.
 
To briefly review the advantages and disadvantages of each option,
 
EchoSim
 
Pros
  • Available in any browser. No download required
  • Easily Switch between locales and languages
  • Shows JSON messages in Console
Cons
  • Does not support the Alexa re-prompt
  • Requires the user to hold down the mouse button or space bar when speaking. Some users release the mouse button or space bar early.
Alexa App on iOS and Android
 
Pros
  • Widely available on the Apple App Store and Andriod App Stores
  • Supports Alexa's re-prompt
Cons
  • Requires a download
  • Cannot easily switch between locales or languages
Alexa App on the Windows Store
 
Pros
  •  Voice interaction is more intuitive than EchoSim
Cons
  • Requires a download
  • Cannot switch between locales or languages
There may be other options available. If you happen to find any that aren't already covered, please leave it in the comments and I'll add it to the article.