Customers already use Alexa to control smart devices in their homes millions of times each day. Today Amazon announced the next generation of Echo, Echo Plus, and a number of exciting new experiences for Alexa smart home customers including Routines, which allow customers to control multiple devices with a single voice command, and improvements to Groups, which reduce the need to remember the specific names of smart devices to control them.
In parallel with today’s announcement, we have updated the Alexa Smart Home Skill API to make it easier for you to support these and other smart home experiences with Alexa. The updates give you a single, consistent way to inform Alexa of a customer’s smart devices and their capabilities, provide the option to send asynchronous messages to Alexa from your device cloud as well as from your skill, and allow you to notify Alexa whenever your devices change state. The updated API is available today, and you can start now to ensure your products in the Amazon Smart Home store are ready when the new customer experiences become available next month.
Easier Device Setup and Control
The new Echo Plus, announced today, has a built-in smart home hub and can automatically discover and set up compatible lights, locks, plugs, and more. Setting up new smart home devices has never been easier for customers, and enabling Alexa to control ZigBee smart devices has also never been easier for developers.
If you produce smart home light bulbs, door locks, switches, or plugs that support the ZigBee Home Automation application profile, you can offer Alexa-based voice control through Echo Plus to your customers with little or no additional development.
If your ZigBee devices are already certified to work with Amazon Alexa, Amazon will test them with Echo Plus and alert you of any issues. If your ZigBee devices are not yet certified, you can submit them now for testing via the Works with Amazon Alexa program with the smart home hub you currently use, or you can submit them with Echo Plus once it becomes available. Either way, we’ll include testing with Echo Plus as part of the process.
Routines and the improvements to Groups will give your customers additional ways to control your devices—without requiring you to do extra work. With Routines, customers can trigger a series of actions from one or more devices using a single voice command. For example, a customer could say, “Alexa, good night" to turn off the lights, lock the door, and turn off the TV.
With the improvements to Groups, customers no longer need to remember the specific name of a smart device or group of smart devices to control them. Now a customer can place their Echo devices into smart home groups, enabling Alexa to act more intelligently on requests. For example, when a customer walks into the kitchen, they can say, “Alexa, turn on the lights” rather than “Alexa, turn on the kitchen overhead lamp.”
New Smart Home Skill API Features
The updated version of the Smart Home Skill API makes it easy for you to support these and other Alexa smart home experiences with your devices.
- Alexa.Discovery and Capability Interfaces. First, you can now precisely represent your smart devices and the functions they support during discovery using new Capability Interfaces, which replace appliances and actions. You can use capability interfaces designed specifically for smart cameras, entertainment devices, lights, locks and thermostats, or you can use broadly applicable primitives, such as the power and percentage controllers, for many other smart device types. The capability interfaces support all of the existing appliance actions, and add two more: thermostat developers can now enable customers to use Alexa to change modes and specify up to three different set points. For more information on smart home capabilities, see the Smart Home Skill API documentation.
- Asynchronous Programming. Second, with the updated API, you can send asynchronous messages directly from your device cloud to Alexa. Previously, only your smart home skill running in AWS Lambda could provide updates to Alexa. Being able to send messages from your device cloud gives you greater flexibility for situations when your skill cannot provide an immediate response, such as when managing long running actions like locking a door.
- Proactive State Updates. Finally, you can make Alexa smarter and more responsive by providing Proactive State Updates whenever your device changes state, such as when a customer turns a smart light on or off. Proactive State Updates take advantage of the new asynchronous programming feature described above, and will allow Alexa to present state with low latency when a customer asks about your devices or views them in the Alexa app. We’ve also normalized state queries across device types with a single, consistent directive, ReportState.
Update Your Smart Home Skills Today
The updated Smart Home Skill API will be the basis for all future smart home enhancements. While customers can continue to use skills built on the existing API, you should update your Smart Home Skill now to fully support the new experiences and to be ready for future enhancements. This requires changing existing code to use the new Alexa.Discovery interface described above, updating directive processing to use the latest message formats, and implementing proactive state updates.
Migration of existing skills to use the updated API is straightforward. Our blog post, How to Migrate Your Alexa Skill to the Updated Smart Home Skill API, describes the process step-by-step. To learn more about implementing Proactive State Reporting, join us for a live webinar early next month.
“We were happy to give Amazon feedback and continuously prototype as they created this new version of the Alexa Smart Home API,” said Joe Zwack, senior API evangelist with Honeywell’s Connected Home business. “Our team was able to update our smart home skill with the beta version of the APIs in less than two weeks. This will create a better experience for developers and allow consumers more flexibility to control all of their Honeywell connected thermostats and new Lyric cameras by voice.”
The updated API is already deployed; you can begin your development today in the Alexa developer portal, and can test your new skill with existing commands using any Alexa-enabled device. Skills using the updated Smart Home Skill API can be submitted for certification now. Those that pass certification will be made available to customers when the new customer experiences are made available next month.
Reach and Delight More Customers
Works with Amazon Alexa is a certification program that raises the bar on responsiveness, reliability, and functionality, ensuring your customers have the best smart home experiences. When your products are certified, they can carry the Works with Amazon Alexa badge in the Amazon Smart Home store and on product packaging. This increases customer confidence that your products integrate seamlessly with Alexa, which in turn increases traffic to your products in the store and offline channels. Whether you build smart home devices that connect to Alexa using Echo Plus and ZigBee, or ones that connect using the Internet and a Smart Home Skill, you can submit your products for certification via the program.
Help us delight the next generation of smart home customers. Update your smart home skills and products to support the new customer experiences, and submit them for certification as soon as they’re ready.
- Learn about Smart home development with Alexa.
- Read the Smart Home Skill API documentation.
- To create a skill from scratch, see Steps to Create a Smart Home Skill.
- For detailed steps to migrate existing skills, read the How to Migrate Your Alexa Skill to the Updated Smart Home Skill API blog and the Smart Home Skill Migration Guide.
- Learn about sending events to the Alexa Event Gateway.
- Register to attend the Adding Proactive State Updates to Alexa Smart Home Skills webinar.