Amazon’s Alexa devices are: surroundings computers, not the kind you use all day. When you To do ask your Echo a question or glance at the small screen of your Echo Show, the voice assistant only has a short chance to impress. Today, Amazon is announcing that it will be giving more of those opportunities to third-party developers, including brand new widgets and featured skill cards that can take some of your smart speaker’s precious real estate.
Here’s what to expect from this and everything else the company is announcing today at its Alexa Live event.
As you can see in Amazon’s mockup above, widgets looks about as you would expect. In a blog post, Amazon describes them as “rich, customizable, uncluttered, self-updating views of skill content” where you can check items off a to-do list or activate a skill’s features without having to say “Alexa” first. It’s not clear yet how limited they are or if they could effectively be a way to build a touchscreen app for an Echo Show.
Recommended Skill Cards can be somewhat controversial depending on how useful they are. It promotes new Alexa skills on your home screen, even if you didn’t ask for it. It’s not exactly an advertising service, says Aaron Rubenson, vice president of Amazon Alexa Skills The edge, not something developers have to pay for. “Anyone can raise their hands and say they want to be there,” he says, adding that you’ll see personalized results based on other signals you send Alexa. One of the first featured skill cards is Comedy Central, and Rubenson says he might see it because he already listens to a comedy every morning in his Alexa Flash Briefing.
But even if you don’t have an Echo device with a screen, you may soon be presented with more Alexa skills. Amazon says they are untitled interaction toolkit to voluntarily promote skills when you say phrases like “Alexa, how’s the Nasdaq doing today?”
“We have developers raise their hands and say, ‘My skill can handle that request,’” says Rubenson. And you agree to use Amazon’s suggested skills, Alexa can pass on your request instead of letting you repeat yourself.
While Amazon was the only one to previously benefit from physical merchandise sold through Alexa, the company will now let Alexa skill developers also sell products within their skill set using Alexa shopping promotions and also receive up to 10 percent affiliate marketing commission from Amazon. As expected, you can only sell products listed on Amazon.com, although you don’t need to your Products. (Rubenson couldn’t say if Amazon would allow skills that are basically just stores.) Amazon is also introducing paid skills, so don’t be surprised if you have to pay before using your next Alexa app instead of making an in-app purchase afterwards.
While Amazon still doesn’t seem to have attracted rivals Apple, Google and Samsung to its voice interoperability initiative, it also has some news in that area. Rubenson says Samsung will have a refrigerator with both Bixby and Alexa “working side by side,” and the company’s Alexa Custom Assistant (which allows brands to create their own Alexa-powered assistant) will appear in a Verizon smart display where Alexa standard Alexa can handle tasks while the new Verizon Assistant can handle requests like checking your wireless bill. Rubenson says they can also pass requests to each other.
In addition to these highlights, here’s a quick bulleted list of other Alexa updates that caught my eye:
- Food Skill APIs for “quality delivery and collection experiences.” Domino’s Pizza will use it at some point; Here’s an example:
- Send to Phone where “customers can start an experience on their Alexa device and continue it on their mobile phone.” McDonald’s UK, Twitter, Husqvarna, Iberia Airlines, Cookpad and Lysol will connect their mobile apps with Alexa capabilities.
- Event-based triggers and proactive suggestions: “For example, if a client is on their way to work, clients may choose to have a skill proactively suggest they lock their house.” Whole Foods will launch a “curbside pickup” experience later this year.
- Find my opens up the “Alexa, Find My” command to more companies with Tile-like device trackers, with Samsung and Remote+ arriving later this year.
- Alexa Device Discovery can discover new categories of devices, such as printers and smart TVs.
- Alexa entities now gives any skill developer access to Alexa’s knowledge graph for common answers.
That’s not the whole list, mind you, there’s more in Amazon’s full blog post, which we’ll add to this story once it’s live. In addition, Amazon today announced that nearly every Echo smart speaker will support Matter, a new ambitious open standard for smart home devices.
The new features all come as part of the company’s Alexa Live developer conference today, where it’s trying to recruit the next generation of programmers to build skills for its voice assistant. Amazon says it now has 900,000 registered developers and 130,000 skills (more than 750,000 developers a year ago and 100,000 skills in September 2019), and Rubenson tells us that developer revenue has doubled annually, with some skill developers earning more than $1 million a year.