If you have an Apple household, can your iPhone co-exist with an Amazon Echo or Dot? Absolutely!
After years of side-eyeing Amazon's smart assistants, the Echo and Dot, I picked them up late in 2016. I put off the purchase largely because I was hoping for an Apple-inspired solution — an Apple TV you could give voice commands to, or a new AirPort base station with integrated Siri assistant.
But no luck for me — if Apple's working on non-iPhone assistant technology, it's still hidden deep within Infinite Loop's various testing labs. So, what the heck: I decided to give the Echo a shot.
Not my first third-party rodeo
Amazon's ecosystem isn't my first non-Apple venture: After outfitting my house with Sonos speakers, I quickly had to get used to the idea of using a third-party app to control certain aspects of my home. To be honest, it wasn't all that different from using the Remote app to control my Apple TV, or the Hue app for my Hue lights.
As much as the iPhone, iPad, and Mac rule my general computing life, third-party accessories have taken over a lot of the periphery. They make up my lights, speakers, doorbell and door lock, coffee maker, temperature sensors, and noise alerts. And while some hook directly into Apple's Home app, others require specific third-party apps to function properly.
Echo and iPhone, BFFs
Though I didn't know it at the time, Amazon's Echo is actually the perfect middleman between my various third-party accessories and my iPhone.
When you first pick up a new Echo, Dot, or Tap, you set it up with Amazon's Alexa app, free to download on the iPhone. The app lets you customize most everything about your speaker, including its wake word, and keeps track of your most recent voice commands.
It's voice where the Echo shines, of course: Multiple beam-forming microphones let Amazon's assistant, Alexa, hear you from just about anywhere in the room, and built-in speakers (or an AUX connection to a more powerful sound system) let it respond in turn.
Once setup is complete, you interact with Alexa almost entirely through voice commands to your Echo, Dot, or Tap. Certain commands — "How do you say 'Hello' in French?", for example — may drop extra information in the Alexa app, but otherwise, you never need look at your iPhone to use your Echo.
In addition, as I mentioned above, many home automation devices can connect directly to the Echo, either via your Echo's built-in commands or by installing Skills via the Alexa app. As a result, I can control non-HomeKit devices in my home with more ease than ever before — because chances are if Apple doesn't support the device, Amazon does.
A quick note about Skills: Like SiriKit on the iPhone, Skills are essentially third-party applets that help your Amazon Echo respond to even more commands. Unlike Siri, however, Skills are freely available to download, and they cover a much wider array of tasks than the limited SiriKit options. You can use Skills to get movie times or track packages, control specialized home automation devices, tell jokes, and much, much more.
Admittedly, I only have a few installed Skills I rely on; most of the tasks I use my Echo for are built right into Alexa's system software. But it all works flawlessly with my iPhone — though I rarely have to pick it up, when I'm using my Echo.
A few limitations
I do have a few nitpicks, largely due to how Amazon and Apple butt heads in the corporate world. You can't officially stream Apple Music via the Amazon Echo, for example; while there are loopholes like turning the Echo into a Bluetooth speaker that will let you play music from your iPhone, you can't directly speak to Alexa and make the assistant play Apple Music tunes. (If you have a Sonos speaker and a high tolerance for fiddling with code, you can also try this hack to make Apple Music stream on your speakers.) In general, though, if you want direct music access from your Echo, you'll have to pay for Spotify or Amazon Music Unlimited.
Additionally, there are no remote out-of-home controls: You have to be on the same Wi-Fi network to control your Echo with the Alexa app. You can still view your to-do and shopping lists, sure, but if you want to remotely change the music your dogs are listening to while you're at work, you're out of luck.
How do you use your Amazon Echo?
Do you have an Echo, Dot, or Tap and use it in an Apple ecosystem? Any cool tips you've picked up? Let me know below!