The Amazon Echo and related devices continue to get more and more useful thanks to improvements to Alexa, the cloud-based virtual assistant that powers them. Amazon announced on Friday that developers have released over 1,000 “skills” for Alexa. With each skill, Alexa gets smarter, and users can do more with it by simply speaking commands.
This number of skills is particularly impressive when you consider that in January, Alexa only possessed 135 skills, according to TechCrunch. That’s a pretty big testament to Amazon’s available APIs and developers’ thirst for using them.
According to Amazon, creating an Alexa skill is “easy” and “fast” as developers can use the company’s Smart Home Skill API within its Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) to add smart home capabilities to Alexa and the Amazon Echo.
— Amazon Echo (@amazonecho) March 25, 2016
“They can also create custom skills with ASK by designing their voice UI and simply building cloud-hosted code that interacts with Alexa cloud-based APIs to process customer requests,” Amazon explains in a press release. “Alexa does the work to hear, understand, and resolve the customer’s spoken request, and then maps the service call to the developer’s endpoint.”
Since the initial launch of ASK, Amazon has added new built-in “intents and slots,” as well as account linking and audio clips to make it easier for developers to create Alexa skills. Amazon says it has also made it more convenient for customers to find and use such skills,thanks to features like skill sorting, ratings, reviews, and “relaxed invocation phrases.”
“Less than a year ago we released the Alexa Skills Kit, making it possible for any developer to create voice experiences for Alexa,” adds Amazon Alexa Director Rob Pulciani. “Today, we have a vibrant community of tens of thousands of developers who are learning about the service, bringing useful and innovative skills to every aspect of Alexa customers’ lives, and introducing their own users to the magic and simplicity of hands-free, voice-driven interactions. We’re excited about the 1,000 skills that are already available, and can’t wait to see what developers create with the next ten thousand.”
— Amazon Echo (@amazonecho) April 5, 2016
Examples of ways developers have been improving Alexa, as highlighted by Amazon include:
- Capital One giving customers voice access to banking information
- Domino’s giving customers a hands-free way to order and track their pizza
- Fitbit giving users voice access to health and fitness stats
- Kayak giving customers a way to access travel details with their voice
- SmartThings giving customers voice-activated control of their home
- Uber letting customers order a ride without touching a device
- Haiku Home letting customers control home fans with their voice
- Genady Okrain helping stop people from missing the Caltrain
- Ken Westphal enabling voice-activated fan trivia
According to Wired, which cites an internet trends report from venture capitalist Mary Meeker, voice-controlled devices are steadily gaining in popularity. It even goes so far as to say that the Amazon Echo is a bigger threat to the iPhone than Google’s Android operating system, which dominates smartphone market share by being available on so many different devices. The report compares iPhone sales, which have been rapidly slowing and are expected to be in decline by the end of the year, to estimated Amazon Echo shipments, which are experiencing strong growth.
In addition to the Amazon Echo, Alexa powers the Echo Dot, Amazon Fire TV, Amazon Tap, and other devices. Echo Dot and Amazon Tap were both just unveiled in March. The former is a hands-free, voice-controlled device that uses the same voice recognition as Echo and can be connected to speakers with an audio cable or via Bluetooth to add voice-control to the user’s home stereo system. Amazon Tap is an Alexa-enabled portable Bluetooth and Wi-Fi speaker that functions almost like a more portable Amazon Echo.
[Photo by Ethan Miller / Getty Images]