Updated July 22 with clarification around the timing of Disney releasing assistant technology
Today as part of its Alexa Live event Amazon released multiple new technologies and software updates for its personal assistant platform Alexa. Most are related to smart home, but many are 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 VP for Alexa Aaron Rubenson told me yesterday. “Some are rooted in the phone or VR, but our goal is to keep [people] looking up, to be always available when you need it, but also to fade away when you don’t.”
Amazon, which also announced today that over 300 million smart home devices are now connected to Alexa, announced multiple new technologies for improving Alexa, making Alexa available everywhere, and making smart home set-up easier, including:
- Integrations with the Matter smart home protocol developed jointly by Amazon, Apple, Google, and others
- New technology for “Frustration-Free Set-up” of smart home devices
- Multi-admin technology so people can easily control smart home devices with whatever app they choose
- The Alexa Ambient Home Dev Kit to help smart home devices integrate, “know” when you’re on vacation, “understand” that they can vacuum while you’re at the office, and take smart actions such as alert you when an Echo device hears breaking glass or detect audible smoke or carbon monoxide alarms
- Sync modes between all your devices, so in sleep mode they’re quiet, in vacation mode they keep up the appearance of human activity, in dinner time mode they turn on some background music and appropriate lighting
- Alexa Routines, which are pre-created sets of instructions brands can offer their customers. Jaguar Land Rover, for example, is launching a “Good Night” routine which will check that the car is locked, check fuel or charge level, and ensure that Guardian mode is on.
- Agent transfers: If Alexa decides it can’t handle a request, it can transfer you to an assistant that can in a privacy-safe way
- Promoted Skills: a way for developers of Alexa Skills to advertise their skills to Alexa users and Amazon customers. Also: Amazon is boosting the revenue sharing from 70/30 in favor of the developer to 80/20 for developers earning less than $1 million per year, plus a time-limited bonus 10% incentive.
- Alexa Conversation, which Amazon says is a richer, more natural conversation style in Skills. This will enable, for instance, a much more natural food ordering experience in the Panera Skill.
- Skills Quality Coach, which will help Skills developers make better and more useful skills
- Alexa Shopping Kit, which will help Skills developers sell items on Amazon inside their Skills and earn referral fees of up to 10%.
One of the new integrations is into third-party earbuds like Skullcandy. While Skullcandy has long has “Hey Skullcandy,” it’s been fairly limited. Working with Native Voice, which enables multi voice assistant controls for consumer electronic devices, people can now ask their Skullcandy earbuds where their Amazon package is, or to turn on the lights at home.
“Voice is going mobile,” Native Voice CEO and founder John Goscha told me yesterday. “It’s been on the countertop, but now we see incredibly growth outside.”
Perhaps, although I don’t see too many people who are eager to speak commands out loud in public places. There’s are still some taboos there.
But it is clear that Amazon is taking Alexa pretty much everywhere possible. Audi, BMW, Ford, and Jeep have integrated Alexa support, Disney is planning to offer an Alexa-powered digital assistant in its resorts (but it will be Hey Disney there), as have multiple other locations. Physical places now using Alexa include hotels, hospitals, and senior living facilities, Amazon’s Rubenson told me. Clearly, allowing seniors to simply speak their requests, or ask for help audibly rather than using a smartphone or other system, can be a life-saver.
Voice is intuitive, Rubenson added: you don’t have to learn how to use it.
Amazon is clearly making non-monopoly behavior a priority by offers multiple multi-assistant experiences and making an effort to integrate with additional assistants and technologies from other companies. Customers should be able to choose which smart home devices are in the home, Rubenson says, and that includes choice of which assistants to use.
Amazon also announced a new level of integration with Sonos (which I’ve long felt should be bought by Apple or Amazon to unleash the full value of its ecosystem). Details are light, but “Sonos and Alexa will work side-by-side on a number of their products,” Rubenson said.
“Every brand needs an ambient strategy,” he added. “We have more than doubled the number of active Alexa customers over 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, their customer experience, and their strategies. What we’re seeing here is a maturity and breath of strategy that Apple and Google, Amazon’s primary competitors in smart home and AI assistant technology, will be hard-pressed to replicate.