In case you missed the news, Alexa is Amazon’s digital assistant. It’s capable of voice interaction, offering reminders, playing music, streaming podcasts, playing audiobooks and providing up-to-the-minute news. Alexa is also open to a variety of solutions that have yet to be created. To foster their invention, Amazon recently launched an online hub that can help brands get started with creating skills for Alexa.
The hub's 20 agencies.
As of now, the hub currently lists 20 agencies “with experience in designing, developing, and optimizing Alexa skills.”
However, some small-business owners might find that it’s a bit too expensive to outsource the development of an Alexa skill. For those companies, the hub has them covered as well.
Software development and frameworks.
Businesses with some in-house technical talent can produce their own Alexa skill with a software development kit and various frameworks that are offered on the hub. For starters, there’s the Alexa Skills Kit. It includes a collection of self-service APIs, documentation, code samples and tools so that already experienced developers can produce a skill in quickly.
Then there’s PullString. That’s a development environment that, according to Amazon, “lets developers and creatives within startups, agencies and enterprises develop human-fidelity computer conversations.” Next is Conversible, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform that enables developers to create automated customer engagement conversation flows.
Finally, the hub offers Bespoken Tools. This suite of solutions offers a command line interface for the Alexa Skills Kit so that developers can run Alexa code from their own machines.
Related: Ford Offers Amazon's Alexa in Cars
But, Amazon doesn’t just throw developers a few tools and hope for the best. The company provides several tutorials so that they can quickly start creating their own skills. Even better, the tutorials offer templates that developers can adapt to their own business needs. For example, some developers might adapt the Calendar Reader skill template to create a date-driven skill relevant to their brand.
Discovery: A problem child.
Although Amazon has made it easy for developers to create Amazon skills, there’s still one glaring problem that hasn’t been addressed: discovery. In other words, once a skill is complete, certified and available for use, how do people find it?
The answer to that question is still a bit fuzzy. Amazon took steps last summer to make skills easier to find, but there are lingering issues. Also, of the more than 7,000 skills that have been deployed, less than a third of them have a review. That’s strange considering that Amazon is famous for reviews. In fairness, though, skill discovery isn’t a problem that’s unique to the Alexa ecosystem. Both Android and iOS have problems with discovery as well.
A pitch to marketers.
Why does Amazon make it so easy for people to develop skills for Alexa? Because the company wants digital strategists to adopt voice-driven technologies. There’s a good reason for that. It appears that consumers have already adopted voice technology as a convenient way to get the answers they need without touching a keyboard.
In January, Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP) reported that 8.2 million US Amazon customers have Amazon Echo devices. Before those sales figures were released, CIRP had estimated that only 5.1 million units would be sold.
Slice Intelligence recently reported that Amazon Echo is going “mainstream.” That means, five years from now, it could be the next smartphone. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen. For now, though, it’s clear that Echo is an emerging technology that might very well become a part of almost every household.