5 Years of Building for Voice with the Alexa Skills Kit, Alexa Voice Service, and Alexa Fund
David Isbitski Jul 17, 2020
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A Chief Evangelist’s Love Letter to the Community

 

June marked the five-year anniversary of the Alexa Skills Kit, Alexa Voice Service, and Alexa Fund. Over the last several days I’ve reflected on what an incredible journey these past five years have been, and like other big milestones, this gives us an opportunity to look back, and see what’s ahead. In the beginning, we only imagined what the possibilities of a voice-driven experience could be.

Figure 1 - Alexa Developer Portal on June 25th, 2015

We’ve built something together that customers around the globe use every day. There are over 100,000 Alexa skills, more than 200 Alexa built-in products and over 700,000 developers, like you, creating solutions. Customers have purchased hundreds of millions of Alexa devices, interact with Alexa billions of times each week, with engagement nearly quadrupling over the last two years.

Developer Tools, APIs, and Community Building

Since launching the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), we’ve made hundreds of new tools and APIs available, based on your feedback. To start, we provided a way for you to run your own code inside of a compute instance using AWS Lambda. We provided those discounted compute hours, so you could explore and dream what was possible without worrying about hosting costs. We provided an API to build your own intent schemas and sample utterances creating a simplified way of building conversational experiences within your newly created AWS Lambda service.

Figure 2 - First ever intent schema example with original intrinsic types

Starting in 2015, we met with you face-to-face during the Alexa Roadshow, to hear and experience what it was like to be an Alexa skill developer first-hand. By the summer of 2016, we participated in hundreds of hackathons across the globe and watched thousands of you build Alexa skills! Using only those early tools, you built over 5,000 skills in the first year, up from just 200 skills the year before. Those skills were enjoyed by millions of customers across the U.S., UK, and Germany that year with many more countries to soon follow.

Figure 3 - First Alexa Hackathon with original ASK team and Alexa engineers

Since then, we’ve launched the Smart Home Skills API and watched you build voice-driven experiences for customers across 100,000 smart home products including lights, routers, smoke detectors, coffee makers, and more. With the Alexa Voice Service (AVS), we enabled device makers to create devices with Alexa built-in, offering customers access to Alexa directly from their own devices. Thanks to you, customers can find Alexa built-in products like TVs, PCs, to mirrors, and more.  We also launched a new ASK Built-in library to give  you access to hundreds of new intents and slots. This helped solve some of the most common issues you shared with us, providing a richer experience for customers with higher levels of accuracy.

 

Based on your feedback, hundreds of new features were added, including a complete redesign of the developer console for a visual way to code and test your skills, the Metrics API to see how your skills are being used, and a Skills Simulator for testing, among others. More features continue to be released based on your feedback, allowing new ways for you to improve customer experience as we build the future of voice technology.

Expanding Voice to New Devices and More People

With the launch of new types of devices, like the Echo Show, came the need to build across both visual and audio-only experiences.

Figure 5 - The very first Alexa Visual Design Guide was created by Paul Cutsinger and team

In 2018, we launched the Alexa Presentation Language (APL), giving you the ability to create visually rich Alexa skills that included graphics, images, slideshows, and video across not only Echo devices, but Fire TV as well. We also introduced the Alexa Smart Screen SDK for device makers, enabling them to create screen-based products with Alexa. These tools opened new opportunities for developers to build visually-rich voice experiences.  

 

We also wanted to give more people the ability to build for voice. In 2018 we introduced Alexa Blueprints, allowing anyone to build their own Alexa skills without any coding required.

Building a Voice Economy

With the foundational tools and service in place, we heard loud and clear that you needed the ability to monetize the voice experiences you were building. In 2018, we opened up the ability to perform transactions inside skills through In-Skill Purchasing , Amazon Pay and the ability to link your Alexa skills to your existing customers.

 

There are now hundreds of third-party devices with Alexa built-in, from headphones and PCs to vehicles and smart home devices. In fact, more than 90% of Alexa-enabled products released last year were built by someone other than Amazon. There are also more than 100,000 smart home products that can be controlled with Alexa, from more than 9,500 unique brands.

Figure 6

In addition, since its launch, the Alexa Fund has invested in more than 60 companies to help fuel voice technology innovation and launched programs like Alexa Next Stage to provide additional support to early and later stage startups working to invent the next big thing in conversational AI.

 

Today, Alexa is helping to generate billions of dollars for the developer and device maker community. There are new businesses that only exist because of voice, your hard work and belief that together we are building something that fundamentally changes the way people interact with technology.

Alexa Live and What’s Next

As exciting as the past five years have been, it’s still Day 1. Our goal, as always, is to continue to innovate on your behalf with the tools and services you need, and then get out of the way.

Figure 7

Without giving too much away, we have been working hard on new tools and features to help you make customer experiences richer, more engaging, and more delightful—whether they’re delivered through Alexa skills or devices. Next week on July 22, we will be hosting a free virtual event called Alexa Live where we will share our vision of what’s to come, including new product advances, and there will be a fun line-up of expert speakers, excited to discuss the latest in voice innovations and help you get building. I hope you register today.

Share Your Alexa Memory

Do you have a favorite Alexa milestone from the past five years? We would love to hear it! Please tweet us at @Alexadevs with your favorite memory or highlight and we may include it in a future blog post.

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