Amazon is beefing up several elements of its Alexa ecosystem to generate revenue for developers, boost Routines and ensure that developers can build Alexa devices that are also compliant with Matter. Amazon is also adding some APIs for ambient intelligence in the home as tries to build a digital assistant that can take advantage of context clues. These updates and more were all announced Wednesday at the virtual Alexa Live developer event.
I’m most excited about Amazon’s work with Routines and the launch of its new Ambient APIs. On the Routine front, Amazon will let developers make their own Routines and then easily share those with Alexa users. As an example, Signify could suggest Philips Hue users create a goodbye routine that could automatically turn specific lights on and off in a random pattern while the homeowner was out of the home. I love this because it offloads some of the burden from users to think of their own routines and then go through the trouble of manually creating them.
Aaron Rubenson, VP of Amazon Alexa, says Alexa might suggest a pre defined Routine to users and let them turn it on. Users can also look for pre-defined Routines in the Alexa app. Plus, users can customize the pre-defined Routines from a developer by adding on other Alexa-supported devices. This creates a building block for users that might get them going on using Routines. Amazon will benefit from more Routines because according to Rubenson, Alexa Routine users have four times the engagement with Alexa.
On the Matter front, Amazon has several updates including a new Alexa Connect Kit software development kit (SDK) that’s certified to work with the upcoming Matter smart home interoperability standard. Alexa Connect Kit is the hardware module that lets developers slot silicon and sensors preconfigured to run Alexa right into their product. This new version of the Alexa Connect Kit SDK will let developers using the hardware put software that support Matter onto their device without having to implement it themselves. The device maker will also receive Alexa Connect Kit’s managed services for their Matter devices, including cloud connectivity, and OTA updates for device lifecycle management, logs and metrics.
The Matter protocol will also support a feature called multi-admin, which will let a user swap between different controlling devices. In theory this means someone will multiple digital assistants or a digital assistant an a device makers’ app can control the app from a variety of admins and have the information associated with that device shared across all platforms. In practical terms Rubenson says Amazon’s support will let users label a device and place it in a room or group in Alexa or in the app and have the data shared in both places. This is less a special feature and more an indication of how Matter will work. But it’s good to know.
Beyond Matter, smart home developers are also getting a new set of APIs focused on ambient intelligence. The Alexa Ambient Home Dev Kit will have four different features that will help provide the smart home with more context. Amazon hopes that additional context will enable new routines or skills that let Alexa take action without getting users involved. Amazon’s early efforts at creating this ambient intelligence for the home includes Hunches, where Alexa would proactively suggest things like locking your door as you settled in for the night.
Initially the Ambient Home Dev Kit will contain four APIs. Three of them will work to implement stuff we already wrote about above; the multi-admin feature for Matter, naming for devices, and naming for groups across multiple device administrators. The fourth will share a home’s state with developers if the user opts in. AS an end user this means when Alexa detects I’m away from home and I have given Amazon permission to share that data, my robot vacuum might decide it’s a good time to clean the floors.
Right now, this feels pretty rudimentary (after all Google’s Nest devices used to be able to share home state) but this sort of context is essential for a real smart home. And if Amazon can figure out a way to deliver this securely and conveniently for both developers and the consumers, these APIs will be something to watch going forward.
Finally Amazon is going to let developers advertise their skills on Echo Show devices and in app. So far developers will only be able to promote their skills on screens but Rubenson expects such promotions to eventually come to the voice-only devices. This is just what I don’t want, Alexa trying to sell me more stuff after I’ve asked it to set an alarm or tell me the weather. Amazon is also changing its revenue sharing scheme for developers, so those who make less than $1 million will only share 20% of their revenue down from 30%. There are other changes on the revenue front associated with affiliate sales through an Alexa skill.
Amazon also updated some of its infamous stats, which provide a lot of nice round numbers but little context about how people are adopting and using Alexa. For example, there are now 300 million devices connected to Alexa up from 100 million a year ago says Rubenson. And one in five Alexa users engage with a third-party skill. Honestly, that last number seems super low, which explains why Alexa keeps annoying me with suggestions for new features and skills I might like.
In true Amazon fashion there are dozens of announcements associated with Alexa Live, but these seemed most relevant for the smart home. As we dig into others you’ll hear more about them in the newsletter on Friday.