A web browser is the only software you need to make an Amazon Echo app from a template. (Credit: Screenshot: Tom McNamara/Download.com)

When Amazon produced its first Echo smart speaker in November 2014, it quickly became the talk of the town for iPhone and iPad users who had resigned themselves to Siri's notorious difficulties with speech recognition and general utility. Suddenly the Apple faithful had something on par with the Google Assistant that was common on Android phones, and Amazon has doggedly honed its Alexa AI ever since.

But even artificial intelligence has its limitations, which brings us to the Echo's "skills" and "blueprints." Skills are like apps, but specific to Echo devices. For example, if you add the National Public Radio skill to your Echo, this allows you to stream NPR stations live on Amazon's smart speaker. You can also shop for skills via the Alexa mobile app (download for iOS or Android).

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But with "only" 80,000 skills available, your options are dwarfed by the millions of apps you can get for Android and iOS that could be converted to use with an Echo. So what do you do? Amazon's answer now is to open up skill creation to everyone in the US, via its "Blueprints" tool. This allows anyone to create their own skill for an Echo -- without needing to know anything about programming code.

With this tool, you get a collection of templates that you can use as a basis to create your own personalized skill. Take the Flash Briefing, for example. You choose the skill name, briefing category and intro message, and you upload your own content in text or audio form.

As far as we can tell, there is no way to pull in content from third-party sources, like NPR or CNET.com. So you won't be able to create a custom Flash Briefing skill using pre-existing feeds. At least in the case of the Flash Briefing skill, the point is to create your own text and audio to share.

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When you've finished making your skill, you may be asked to log into your Amazon account, so be prepared to provide that info. This is for creating a skill developer account, if you don't already have one.

Once you've done this, you have the option to delete your skill, make changes, share it with specific people or publish it to the Skills Store. By default, only you (and Amazon) can see your newly created skill.

If you publish your skill on this store, it can be voted on by other users; in theory, the best skills will float to the top of the charts. You can manage your different homemade skills on the Blueprints of Amazon's site in the Skills You've Made section linked at the top of the page.

Takeaways

  • Amazon has updated its Blueprints tool for Alexa Skill creation so that anyone can create their own skill. Skills are apps that are specific to the company's Echo devices.
  • Instead of using programming code to create your skill, you select and modify templates provided by Amazon.

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.