2019 Alexa Developer Year in Review: New Products and Features to Help You Build More with Alexa

Paul Cutsinger Dec 18, 2019
Product Launches News

As 2019 comes to a close, we’re excited to reflect on all the developer community has done to make Alexa smarter and more engaging for customers. Today there are hundreds of thousands of developers and device makers building Alexa experiences, contributing to our growing catalog of more than 100,000 skills in the Alexa Skills Store, and more than 100,000 Alexa-compatible smart home devices. 

Customers are doing so much more with Alexa, thanks to your innovations across skills and devices. Customers interact with Alexa billions of times each week, and engagement with Alexa skills is up more than 100% since 2018, with skill categories like Productivity, Education & Reference, and Kids seeing triple digit growth. And customers have purchased more than 100 million Alexa devices. Your creations are building the voice economy with billions of dollars flowing to the Alexa developer and device maker community.

Our vision is to bring Alexa everywhere customers want to interact with her, and to help you, the developer community, find opportunities to reach more customers by building quality Alexa devices and engaging skills. In 2019, we’ve released new developer features — including new additions to the Echo family of devices, new monetization opportunities, and new and improved developer tools. Here are some of the highlights and new opportunities for voice developers and device makers in 2020. 

More Ways to Reach More Customers

Alexa is available on an ever-growing number of devices, whether they’re built by Amazon or by third-party companies creating devices with Alexa built-in. There are now hundreds of third-party devices with Alexa built-in to enable voice-driven experiences for customers everywhere they are — at home, in the car, at work, and on the go. With new Amazon devices like Echo Buds, Echo Frames, and Echo Auto, you have an opportunity to build voice experiences that can engage customers outside the home. This growing selection of Alexa devices for customers means more opportunities for your Alexa skills to shine.

Now you can also reach more customers in more countries and languages. As Alexa keeps going global, there are new opportunities for developers and device makers to connect with customers around the world. In 2019, Alexa learned three new languages – US SpanishHindi, and Brazilian Portuguese – making the service available in 15 language/locale variations. And with the new Multilingual Mode, Alexa is able to switch between two languages to respond to customers in multilingual households more naturally. Find out how to update your Alexa skills to support the new US SpanishHindi, and Canadian French language models. Explore language- and region-specific services for device makers.

More Ways to Tap into New Use Cases for Voice-Driven Experiences

Alexa helps customers live at their best, and this year we introduced more ways developers can use Alexa to build helpful and convenient experiences. Now select US skill developers can build healthcare skills, allowing customers to access healthcare services – like booking a medical appointment, managing medication, accessing hospital post-discharge instructions, or checking on the status of a home delivery prescription order – more conveniently using voice. 

Education technology developers can use the new Alexa Education Skill API (preview) to integrate Alexa with education systems, such as learning management systems, and build voice experiences for parents and students 13 and older. 

Makers of smart devices can also bring Alexa into new form factors throughout the smart home. For example, with the updated Smart Home Skill API, Alexa can control more types of cooking appliances, from conventional ovens and pressure cookers to coffee makers and toasters. And now with updated smart home building block APIs, device makers can enable customers to more seamlessly control any feature of any smart home device. 

Device makers in the US can also take advantage of new inventory sensors in the Smart Home Skill API to ensure that customers always have the supplies required for their device to run at its best – such as printers (ink), thermostats (air filters), toothbrushes (toothbrush heads), and washing machines (detergent). By using inventory sensors in your smart home skill to provide consumption updates, Alexa will let customers know when supplies used by your device are running low or parts need replacement. Customers can also set up smart reordering through Dash Replenishment so that supplies are automatically reordered before they run out. 

More Tools to Deliver Better Experiences for Customers

With Alexa available on an ever-growing number of devices, it’s important to ensure you’re delivering a seamless and engaging voice-first experience. To enable your skills to shine across device types, we made the Alexa Presentation Language (APL) generally available. Using APL, you can easily create visually rich Alexa skills for devices with screens and adapt them for different device types. Adding visuals and touch can make skills more engaging and interactive for customers. We also launched the Alexa Web API for Games (preview) to allow select game developers to create visually rich voice games using HTML and web technologies like Canvas 2D, WebAudio, WebGL, JavaScript, and CSS. Now developers can take advantage of existing web technologies to create voice-based games that customers can interact with via voice and touch. 

Developers can also make it easier for customers to interact with their favorite skills more automatically via Alexa routines. Rather than having to proactively remember a skill’s name to invoke it, customers can now invoke custom skills from Alexa routines, which are easy ways for Alexa to perform a series of actions at the same time, in a certain order. Being able to activate custom skills from routines was the top-voted item on our Alexa skills feature request site, and we’re excited to see more customers using your skills as part of their regular routines. 

In addition to tools to enhance the skill experience, we released new features device makers can use to make smart devices even easier for customers to set up, use, and maintain. We announced updates to the Frustration-Free Setup initiative, which enables customers to securely connect smart devices to their home networks by simply plugging them in. As a result, customers can start using their smart home devices faster, and you can reduce customer frustration, service call-in rates, and product returns. We also introduced Certified for Humans, a new certification program designed to help customers find smart home products that are easy to set up and work seamlessly with Alexa. By becoming part of the program, smart home device makers can deliver a better customer experience and potentially see increased traffic to certified products on Amazon.com that display the new Certified for Humans badge on product listings.

We also launched the Voice Interoperability Initiative, through which we work with companies on technology solutions that allow devices to support multiple wake words so users can summon the voice service of their choice.

More Ways to Build for Voice

Today there are hundreds of thousands of developers building for voice using the Alexa Skills Kit, our collection of self-service APIs, tools, documentation, and code samples. To streamline the skill-building process and simplify back-end development, we released Alexa-hosted skills, which enable you to build your voice interface, provision AWS cloud services, and publish a skill without leaving the Alexa Developer Console. For those who wish to create a skill without coding, they can now build and publish a skill directly to the Alexa Skills Store using Skill Blueprint templates.

We’re also making it easier for developers and manufacturers to integrate Alexa into their devices. Now with the Alexa Connect Kit (ACK), device makers can connect any device to the internet and Alexa using an Amazon-managed hardware module, without worrying about managing cloud services, Alexa skills, or complex networking and security firmware. To enable device makers to bring delightful voice experiences to customers on the go, we’ve also added new Alexa Mobile Accessory (AMA) features for building Alexa into mobility-focused devices like headphones, earbuds, headsets, and other Bluetooth devices. We also announced the general availability of Alexa Smart Screen Software Development Kit (SDK) version 2.0 along with qualified solutions from Broadcom and CommScope. The SDK enables device makers to bring rich Alexa visual experiences to voice-enabled products with screens. We also introduced more ways for automakers and suppliers to integrate Alexa into their vehicles using the Alexa Auto Software Development Kit (SDK). The updated SDK offers a full-suite of offline functionality, in addition to online functionality, for accessing Alexa in the car, helping keep customers entertained and productive—even when connectivity is intermittent or not available.

We’re also making it easier for developers to build with Alexa through strategic solution providers, enabling device makers to leverage more complete hardware, software, services, and designs that are already pre-integrated with technologies needed to build and launch devices with Alexa. This year we announced new Systems Integrators (including C-Chip, Sagemcom, and StreamUnlimited) and Original Design Manufacturers (including SGW Global, Sirena Vood, Junlam, MyBox, BarbetSound, My Music Group, InnoMedia, Tatung, Horn, Third Reality, and Hansong). We also announced another solution provider this year: Consulting and Professional Services (CPS). CPS firms have the expertise to help device makers take Alexa Built-in products from concept to reality; they provide a range of services including consulting, prototyping, device design implementation, and large-scale solution implementation. We are also excited to release new and updated development kits from Microsemi, Synaptics, Qualcomm, NXP, XMOS, Knowles, and MediaTek. To help device makers select the right development kit, we launched a Development Kit Comparison Table that allows filtering and comparison across key metrics including the target application, platform architecture type, and supported features.

More Ways for Skill Developers to Build a Voice Business

While it’s still the early days of voice technology, many developers, brands, and voice entrepreneurs are already capitalizing on Alexa’s reach. We even have skill developers making six figures each year. In 2019, we released more ways for developers to launch and grow a voice business through skill monetization. We expanded the availability of in-skill purchasing (ISP) in the UK, GermanyJapanFrance, Italy, and Spain, and allowed developers to start monetizing Spanish-language skills in the US. Furthermore, developers can now enrich US kid skills with premium content using ISP, while maintaining purchase controls. Learn more about building a great monetized skill experience in our new training course, “How to Design for In-Skill Purchasing.”

We Can’t Wait to See What You Build Next

These highlights are just some of the new features and tools you can use to build incredible voice experiences and Alexa-enabled devices for customers. For the full list of new Alexa Skills Kit features and tools launched in 2019, check out the Alexa skills release updates page. You can also check out developer and device maker announcements on the Alexa Developer Blog

Thank you for being part of the Alexa developer community and for making Alexa smarter every day. We can’t wait to see what you build with Alexa in 2020.