Amazon today is announcing updates for Alexa, the voice-activated virtual assistant at the core of its Echo line of smart speakers. Now people who own devices like the $180 Echo and the $130 Amazon Tap can enable new skills, or capabilities, simply by saying, “Alexa, enable” and then saying the name of the desired skill. Until now, you had to retrieve your phone or tablet, find the skill, and turn it on.
There are now more than 1,400 Alexa skills and tens of thousands of developers working on Alexa skills and projects, just one year after Amazon introduced the feature with the help of the Alexa Skills Kit, Amazon said today in a statement. To accommodate the growth in skills, Amazon has redesigned the skills portion of the Alexa app. There are now categories like Lifestyle and Smart Home and filters to help you find exactly what you want. No longer do users have to cycle through page after page of skills while navigating with the Next and Previous buttons.
The Echo is not even 2 years old. It’s not the most popular consumer device. But it has made the market for speakers that come with voice assistants. When Google introduced its competitor, Google Home, last month, Google CEO Sundar Pichai specifically cited Amazon for “creating a lot of excitement in this space.”
While Google has clearly found partners to build integrations with the new underlying system, Amazon has the leg up. Its developer community around Echo and Alexa is bigger than the community Google has for Home and its Google Assistant. Over time that may change, but for now, that’s just the way things are.
Meanwhile, Apple introduced SiriKit earlier this month to expose technologies that developers can use to make their services capable of working with the Siri virtual assistant. Surely developers will flock to that, but for the moment, it’s still brand-new.
End users are using the integrations that developers have built for Alexa and Echo. People have made more than 3 million requests with the top 10 Alexa skills, Amazon said. Among the most popular skills are Daily Affirmation, Fitbit, Jeopardy, Magic 8 Ball, and The Bartender, the company said.