Updated July 22 with clarification on the timing of Disney’s release of assistive technology
Today, as part of its Alexa Live event, Amazon released several new technologies and software updates for its Alexa personal assistant platform. Most of it is about smart home, but a lot is about driving Amazon’s AI-powered assistant platform everywhere.
In your ear, in your car, in your hotel, in your office, and, of course, in your home.
“Our goal is ambient computing,” Amazon’s Vice President for Alexa Aaron Rubenson told me yesterday. “Some of them are rooted in the phone or VR, but our goal is to keep them [people] looking up, to always be available when you need him, but also to disappear when you don’t.”
Amazon, which also announced today that more than 300 million smart home devices are now connected to Alexa, announced several new technologies to improve Alexa, make Alexa available everywhere, and make a smart home setup easier, including:
- Integration with the Matter smart home protocol jointly developed by Amazon, Apple, Google, and others
- New technology for “Frustration Free Setup” of smart home devices
- Multi-control technology so people can easily control smart home devices with whatever app they choose
- The Alexa Ambient Home Dev Kit to help integrate smart home devices, “know” when you’re on vacation, “understand” that they can vacuum when you’re in the office, and take smart actions like alerting you when an Echo device hears breaking glass or detects audible smoke or carbon monoxide alarms
- Modes sync between all your devices, so in sleep mode they’re silent, in holiday mode they keep up the appearance of human activity, in dinnertime mode they turn on some background music and appropriate lighting
- Alexa Routines, pre-created sets of instructions can be offered to their customers. Jaguar Land Rover, for example, is launching a “Good Night” routine, which will check that the car is locked, check the fuel or charge level, and ensure Guardian mode is on.
- Agent transfers: If Alexa decides it can’t handle a request, it can transfer you to an assistant who can in a privacy-safe way
- Promotion Skills: a way for Alexa Skills developers to advertise their skills to Alexa users and Amazon customers. Also: Amazon is increasing revenue sharing from 70/30 in favor of the developer to 80/20 for developers who earn less than $1 million per year, as well as a time-limited bonus incentive 10%.
- Alexa Conversation, which Amazon says is a richer, more natural conversational style in Skills. This will enable, for example, a much more natural food ordering experience in the Panera Skill.
- Skills Quality Coach, which will help skill developers make better and more useful skills
- Alexa Shopping Kit, which will help Skill developers sell items on Amazon within their Skills and earn up to 10% referral fees.
One of the new integrations is into third party earbuds like Skullcandy. While Skullcandy has had “Hey Skullcandy,” for a long time, it’s pretty limited. Working with Native Voice, which enables multi-voice assistant controls for consumer electronic devices, people can now ask their Skullcandy headphones where their Amazon package is, or turn on the lights at home.
“Voice is going mobile,” Native Voice CEO and founder John Goscha told me yesterday. “It’s been put on the countertop, but now we’re seeing incredible growth outside the home.”
Maybe, although I don’t see too many people eager to speak orders out loud in public places. There are still some taboos.
But it’s clear that Amazon is adopting Alexa pretty much everywhere it can. Audi, BMW, Ford and Jeep have integrated Alexa support, Disney plans to offer an Alexa-powered digital assistant in its resorts (but it will be Hey Disney), as are many other places. Among the physical places Alexa is now using are hotels, hospitals, and senior living facilities, Amazon’s Rubenson told me. Allowing seniors to speak their requests, or ask for help audibly rather than using a smartphone or other system, is clearly a life saver.
The voice is intuitive, Rubenson said: you don’t need to learn how to use it.
Amazon is clearly prioritizing non-monopoly behavior by offering multiple multi-assistant experiences and trying to integrate with additional assistants and technologies from other companies. Customers should be able to choose which smart home devices are in the home, says Rubenson, and that includes choosing which assistants to use.
Amazon also announced a new level of integration with Sonos (which I have long felt Apple or Amazon should buy to unlock the full value of its ecosystem). Details are light, but “Sonos and Alexa will work side-by-side on some of their products,” Rubenson said.
“Every brand needs an environmental strategy,” he said. “We’ve more than doubled Alexa’s active customers in the last three years.”
Most of the announcements today are on the development side: SDKs, technologies, and programs for brands and developers building voice assistant and ambient computing into their products, customer experience, and strategies. What we see here is the maturity and breath of strategy that Apple and Google, Amazon’s primary rivals in smart home and AI assistant technology, will be well worth replicating.