Introducing More Than 50 Features to Build Ambient Experiences, Drive Growth With Alexa

Jeff Blankenburg Jul 21, 2021
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Developers and device makers have been core to Alexa’s evolution and they will be critical to the future of our entire family of devices and services. Your products and services have helped customers make their homes smarter and more secure, connect with loved ones, and stay informed and entertained while at home and on-the-go. There are more than 900,000 registered Alexa developers who have built over 130,000 Alexa skills, hundreds of Alexa Built-in products across categories like PC’s, wearables, smart home devices, and cars, and more than 140,000 smart home products that can be controlled with Alexa.

That’s why I’m so excited about today’s third annual Alexa Live developer conference, which brings together developers, device makers, startups, and entrepreneurs for a free half-day of virtual learning, inspiration, and networking. It’s an honor to be able to spend the day celebrating your innovation and success with all of you who are building the future of ambient computing. And it’s exciting to reaffirm our commitment to the Alexa builder community and share the latest product advancements and insights on the future of voice.  

Our vision for Alexa is to be an ambient assistant that is proactive, personal, and predictable, everywhere customers want her to be. This enables them to do more and think about technology less. It’s our long-term vision, which means there’s a lot of work to be done to make this a reality. And we can only deliver on this together with you. It’s in our DNA to support the dreamers and builders who are delivering for customers, and it’s our goal to empower you to be successful with our services.

Today, we introduce the largest amount of developer features and tools we’ve ever announced at one time. These tools and features will make it easier to drive discovery, growth, and engagement, unlock more ways to delight customers, and address a few key focus areas. Here are just a few of the things we’re introducing today:

Driving Engagement and Discovery


APL WIDGETS

We’re announcing APL Widgets, available in Developer Preview. Widgets are a new way for customers to interact with content from the home screen of their device, including rich, customizable, glanceable, self-updating views of skill content. With Widgets, interactive skill experiences are available to customers even before they invoke your skill. For example, imagine a customer being able to “check an item off a list” or tap a widget to be taken straight to the latest content your skill has to offer. You can use APL documents to create these Widgets just as you would with your multimodal skill responses today.  Apply for the preview here.  
 

FEATURED SKILL CARDS

The Echo Show home screen already shows customers things like news, recipes, photos and more. Soon, select developers will be able to use Featured Skill Cards to promote their skills in the home screen rotation. Customers will be able to discover and interact with your skill right from the Home screen – so you can acquire and engage with customers. Whether you’re a large brand, or individual developer with high quality skills, promotion on the home screen provides a meaningful opportunity to increase discovery, and deepen engagement. You can apply now to participate in the limited Developer Preview.


NAME FREE INTERACTION TOOLKIT EXPANSION

Last year, we announced the Name Free Interaction, or NFI Toolkit, which enables you to provide Alexa with signals about common requests that your skill can handle, making it easier for customers to find and use it without having to remember your skill’s name. Adopting the NFI Container has shown to be a key tool to boost traffic. While results can vary from skill to skill, we saw some double their traffic when using NFI. We’re now expanding availability of the NFI Toolkit in all English locales and adding three new capabilities on top of this framework:
 

  • SKILL DISCOVERY VIA POPULAR PHRASES
    Today, there are millions of discovery-oriented utterances per month from Alexa customers. Things like “Alexa, tell me a story”, “Alexa, I need a workout”, or "Alexa, let’s play a game.” Now, you can have your skill suggested as one of Alexa’s responses to these popular discovery phrases via voice and on screen. This is a new way to acquire customers with highly relevant, real-time skill suggestions. You can apply for the preview today.

  • PERSONALIZED SKILL SUGGESTIONS
    We also want to make it easy for customers to keep using skills they love. We have added personalized skill suggestions to Name Free Interactions. This includes new skill affinity models and customer feedback mechanisms. These are designed to make it easier for you to connect with customers that have shown interest in your skill – or similar skills. For example, a customer could ask “Alexa how did the Nasdaq do today?” and Alexa will help route them by offering your skill with a prompt like “You’ve previously used the CNBC skill. Would you like to use it again? Apply for the preview today.

  • CONTEXTUAL SKILL EXPERIENCES
    We have also extended Name Free interactions to support contextual discovery of skills through multi-skill experiences. Customers can use natural phrases to accomplish tasks across multiple skills to meet the desired goal. Customers don’t have to invoke each skill separately or repeat the same information when talking to different skills. For example, when users ask Alexa what happened today in history, Alexa will respond, and then ask them if they would like to search for talks on history in the TED Talks skill. Alexa will then automatically pass the search topic “history” and deep link the customers into the skill. Apply for the preview here.

New Monetization Opportunities to Drive Growth


PAID SKILLS

Today we’re introducing Paid Skills, a new form of monetization that you can leverage. With Paid Skills, customers pay a one-time fee, up front, to access the content in your skill. This is ideal for premium skills where a customer is more likely to pay once, to access the core skill experience. You’ll be able to start building Paid Skills in the coming weeks.
 

IN-SKILL PURCHASING EXPANSION

We are also expanding in-skill purchasing capabilities internationally to India and Canada later this year.


ALEXA SHOPPING ACTIONS

Alexa Shopping Actions (like ‘Add to Cart’ or ‘Buy’) enable you to sell products from Amazon.com within your skill. For example, Starfinder, a science fiction role-playing game on Alexa, will use Alexa Shopping Actions to allow customers to purchase their table-top board game.

Alexa Shopping Actions are simple to use and integrate into your skill experience. And of course, it leverages the same security features that customers are using today to shop on Alexa. Apply for the preview here.

AMAZON ASSOCIATES ON ALEXA

While you can use Alexa Shopping Actions as a stand-alone feature in your skill, we are also excited to bring one of the largest affiliate marketing programs in the world, Amazon Associates, to Alexa.

You can choose from millions of products available on Amazon.com to recommend within your skill using Shopping Actions and earn a commission on qualifying product referrals. Consistent with the Amazon Associates program, you can earn a commission of up to 10% when a customer purchases the recommended product. You can apply now to participate in the limited Developer Preview.

More Entertaining and Immersive Experiences


AMAZON MUSIC SPOTLIGHT FEATURE

With the new Spotlight feature on Amazon Music, artists can now connect directly with fans by uploading an existing message recording or creating one in the Amazon Music for Artists mobile app. With Spotlight, artists can promote new music and even shine a light on their creative process. Fans can immediately listen on Alexa or in the Amazon Music app, from artist profile pages.

 


SHARED ACTIVITIES API

We want games to be more social. Later this year, we are making the Shared Activities API available. You will be able to use the Shared Activities API to build asynchronous Multiplayer Challenges to make sharing games with friends possible. This unlocks new ways for customers to play with friends and family. Imagine challenging friends to try and beat their score in Jeopardy. You can apply now to participate in the limited Developer Preview.


INTERACTIVE MEDIA SKILL COMPONENTS + SONG REQUEST SKILL COMPONENT

Since the start of this year, customers have used Alexa-enabled devices to listen to billions of hours of music, radio, and podcasts. To continue to make Alexa more delightful for customers, we’re pleased to announce Interactive Media Skill Components, which will shorten the time it takes for Radio, Podcast & Music providers to launch interactive experiences on Alexa. And we are launching the developer preview of the Song Request Skill Component. Radio DJs can engage with listeners by taking song requests & dedications via Alexa. Apply for the preview here.

More Useful for Customers at Home and On-the-Go


FOOD SKILL APIs

Today we’re announcing Food Skill APIs enabling you to quickly create high-quality, food delivery and pickup experiences. Using these Food Skill APIs, you can build easy-to-use, high-accuracy customer experiences with improved discovery features.

Part of getting a customer’s attention is having the right offer, in the right place, and of course at the right time. That’s why leading restaurants like Domino’s will be launching new discovery experiences on Alexa using these APIs. Food Skill APIs also include new ways to surface offers to customers when they ask Alexa for food options.


EVENT-BASED TRIGGERS + PROACTIVE SUGGESTIONS

We’re announcing two more features to build ambient experiences – Event-Based Triggers and Proactive Suggestions. Using Event-Based Triggers and Proactive Suggestions, you can build proactive experiences for customers at home and on the go. For example, if a customer is heading out for work, customers could opt in to have a skill proactively suggest that they lock their home. Additionally, if a customer begins their morning run, a skill could suggest a playlist to listen to. Whole Foods is using these features for a curbside pickup experience that will launch later this year.

Both Event-Based Triggers and Proactive Suggestions will be available for developers later this year.


CUSTOM TASKS IN ROUTINES

Customers use Alexa Routines to simplify their everyday lives. Routines can help automate and bundle daily actions like “Alexa, start my day” or “Alexa, Good night” or “Alexa, (let’s) chill out.” In fact, the percentage of Alexa customers using Routines has more than doubled since last year. Now, with Custom Tasks in Routines, a customer can customize routines to take them directly to what they love about your skill. For example, a customer could make a Routine for “Alexa, what's happening today?” that takes them straight to Quotes, Business News, or Market Updates within their favorite News skill. You can apply now to participate in the limited Developer Preview.


SEND TO PHONE

With Send to Phone, customers can start an experience on their Alexa-enabled device, and continue it on their mobile phone.  With the combination of Quick Links and Send to Phone, you can build ambient experiences that make use of both Alexa and mobile.

McDonald’s UK worked with Vixen Labs to create a skill using Send to Phone that makes grabbing a great deal even easier. Customers can use the My McDonald’s skill to find nearest restaurant, how to get there and the latest deals, and Alexa will send a notification to their phone with the deal information deep-linked to the My McDonalds’s app. Other brands like Twitter, Husqvarna, Iberia Airlines, Cookpad, and Lysol will also be using Send to Phone to couple their mobile app with their Alexa skill.

 


FIND MY

Alexa now has the capability to help customers find the things they care about the most. With today’s launch, available first in private beta, you can use the newly available Find My APIs to create Alexa Smart Home skills that help customers find important things they have misplaced such as keys, wallets, headphones, remotes, and even pets. Customers can simply say ‘Alexa, Find my’ or ‘Alexa, Ring my’ to locate tracked items. We are now opening up Find My to support additional device makers with this launch. Samsung and Remote+ will be adding Find My capabilities in 2021.

Customers Can Make Homes Smarter, More Secure and Manageable


EXPANDING DEVICE DISCOVERY

Customers use Alexa to control smart home devices hundreds of millions of times each week. These include cameras, garage doors, lights, locks, and more. And now we’re expanding Device Discovery to help customers discover additional Alexa compatible devices, like a printer or a Smart TV that are connected to the same wireless network. This enables more device makers to integrate Device Discovery into their products, and more customers to engage with devices through Alexa and leverage your device’s smart capabilities.


EXPANDING ALEXA’S REPLENISHMENT CAPABIILITY

Alexa can already reorder items like batteries, printer ink, detergent and dryer sheets. To further simplify customer lives, we are extending Alexa’s replenishment capability to replacement parts. And you can also earn recurring revenue every time these replacement parts are ordered through Alexa. Many brands like Carrier and Resideo are enabling their thermostats to replenish Air Filters, while Bissell is doing the same for robot vacuum cleaners.


ALEXA GUARD UPDATES

Soon we will help customers make their homes even more secure. Customers in the U.S. will be able to connect to smart safety devices such as smoke, carbon-monoxide and water leak detectors with Alexa to better protect their homes. When these smart safety devices detect an incident, Alexa Guard can send customers a Smart Alert mobile notification. Kidde, Moen, First Alert, and YoSmart are already integrating their smart detectors with Alexa. 

Improving Developer Productivity and Making it Easier to Deliver High-Quality Experiences


ALEXA CONVERSATIONS

At Alexa Live last year, we announced Alexa Conversations, a deep learning-based approach to dialog management to enable more conversational interactions. Since we made Alexa Conversations generally available, thousands of skill builders have used the tools to power experiences that serve millions of customer interactions. Engagement for these skills have more than doubled in the same period. The team behind “Art Museum” found it faster and simpler to build a contest-winning experience using Alexa Conversations. Their skill helps customers explore the Art Institute of Chicago’s digital collection from home.

We are also expanding availability of Alexa Conversations in beta in German, in all English locales, and in a developer preview in Japan. Learn more about Alexa Conversations.


ALEXA SKILL COMPONENTS

We want to make skill coding easier. Today, we’re announcing Alexa Skill Components. These components let you build skills faster by simply plugging them into your existing voice models and code libraries. Spend less time writing foundational code and more time on the unique aspects of your skill using Skill Components. Skill Components are “ready to use” experiences that you can easily add to your skills. Each component follows best practices and uses the latest conversational AI and multimodal capabilities. Alexa Skill Components are now available in Developer Preview and you can apply here.


VOICE-FORWARD ACCOUNT LINKING + VOICE FORWARD CONSENT

Today, customers can set up voice profiles to enable Alexa to recognize their voice and personalize their experience. You can already leverage this feature within your skill experience to differentiate between speakers, or remember user preferences and settings. Now, Voice Forward Account Linking and Voice Forward Consent make it easier for customers to connect their account on your system, or create a new one within your skill experience. With these features, customers can consent through voice to share information from their Alexa voice profile, such as name and phone number. This reduces the need for customers to remember account credentials and gets them into your skill experience, faster.


ALEXA SKILL DESIGN GUIDE

We continue to invest in ways to lower the complexity and investment in building and maintaining skills. We’re announcing a new version of the Alexa Skill Design Guide. The guide codifies lessons learned from Amazon’s developers and broader skill builder community. Rooted in a voice-first design methodology, this guide covers the full development lifecycle. We think you’ll find this guide useful regardless of whether you’re new to designing skills or need guidance on more advanced use cases.


ALEXA ENTITIES

Alexa Entities is now generally available. This feature lets your skill retrieve information from Alexa’s knowledge graph. For example, you might want to know about the population and capital of Belgium, or the average weight of a hippo. With the Alexa Entities feature, you no longer have to source, acquire or manage your own catalogue of general knowledge. You can find out more about Alexa Entities here.


CUSTOMIZED PRONUNCIATIONS

We’re launching Customized Pronunciations, a self-service tool that allows you to add custom pronunciation for rare words to your skill models – think of character names, game titles, and medicine names. Apply today for the limited developer preview.  


SAMPLE UTTERANCE RECOMMENDATION ENGINE

A new AI-based Sample Utterance Recommendation Engine is now available in public beta. This feature uses grammar induction, sequence-to-sequence transformers, and data filtering to recommend utterances for your skills, to save you time.


SKILL A/B TESTING SERVICE + TEST-GENERATION TOOL

We’re launching two new tools for skill testing. Our Skill A/B Testing Service lets you perform A/B tests, make data-driven launch decisions and then control the dial-up of new feature releases.  Our Test-Generation Tool helps you build testing capabilities for consolidated batch testing. We hope both of these features will help you iterate and publish skill updates more frequently.


AVS INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT EXPANSION

We’re making it easier to sell Alexa-integrated devices all around the world, starting with increased international support for the Alexa Voice Service, or AVS. This popular service for integrating Alexa directly into devices will soon be available in over 25 countries – and we’re adding support for multiple new languages including Spanish, French, Italian, and Japanese.


ALEXA CONNECT KIT INTERNATIONAL EXPANSION

Similarly, it will soon be possible to prototype and sell Alexa Connect Kit, or ACK, devices outside of the US.  With this service, you purchase the Amazon-managed ACK hardware module and pay one, low upfront fee that covers use of the ACK cloud service for your product’s lifetime. Many device makers including Sharp, Globe Electric, and Vornado have leveraged the Alexa Connect Kit to delight customers and improve time to market in devices ranging from microwaves to fans to lamps. Our ACK roadmap for this year includes Europe, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, India, and Australia.  

Interoperability of Smart Home Devices and Voice Assistants


MATTER

We have always believed in creating an open smart home environment. By supporting multiple smart home protocols, we make it easier for device makers and developers to collaborate with Alexa and create innovative solutions for our mutual customers. For the past year and a half, we and other leading smart home manufacturers have been developing a new interoperability protocol called Matter. The primary goal of this new standard is to make it easy for customers to know that their smart home devices will work with all major voice services. For device makers, Matter will significantly cut down the effort required to build a new smart home device.

Today, we are announcing that we will be upgrading our Echo Family devices to work with Matter. This includes most Echo and Echo Dot devices and all Echo Studio, Echo Flex, Echo Plus, and Echo Show devices. These changes will help millions of Echo customers set up and control Matter products easily with their Echo devices. We will soon be rolling out tools that make it easy for you to build Matter certified devices, and are ready to start testing your Matter devices now.


VOICE INTEROPERABILITY INITIATIVE

We launched the Voice Interoperability Initiative (or VII) in late 2019. There are multiple voice agents available today, each with its own set of skills and capabilities, and customers should have the freedom to easily access their preferred voice agent for any given task. VII was created to support this vision. The program now has nearly90 members working towards this vision, including Facebook, Intel, Qualcomm, Sonos, Garmin, and other global brands.


MULTI-AGENT TOOLS

We will soon release the Multi-agent Experience (MAX) Toolkit. The MAX Toolkit provides middleware components for multi-agent integrations and presents a solution that will make it easier and faster to develop multi-agent products. Partners building multi-agent devices include SmartTVs featuring ThinQ’s ‘Hi LG’ service and Alexa. Also, Samsung’s next generation of Family Hub Refrigerators offer even more convenience and control at home, now with Alexa Built-in.

 

ALEXA CUSTOM ASSISTANT

The Alexa Custom Assistant, or ACA, is a comprehensive solution that makes easy for any brand to create their own custom voice assistant, with a unique wake word, voice, personality, and capabilities built on Alexa technology. In January we announced global automaker Stellantis as the launch customer for ACA. We’ve continued momentum since then with Qualcomm, Garmin and most recently, Elektrobit and Continental, announcing the first integration of ACA in a production vehicle. Today we’re also announcing that Verizon will soon launch a smart display that leverages the ACA technology. Verizon Customers will use Verizon Smart Display to set up their new service and manage their account, including any troubleshooting, giving them more flexibility to oversee their broadband options. 

What's Next?


We continue to relentlessly innovate so you can build world-class voice technology and ambient computing experiences for our shared customers. Whether you’re a developer, brand, or device maker, we’re building the tools and removing barriers for you to do what you do best. There’s never been a better time to develop for Alexa.

To see a list of all the tools and features or sign up for previews, check out the Alexa Live release round-up.

We can’t wait to see what you build!

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