Amazon has maintained a steady focus on connecting home devices with its Echo smart speakers, from forging ties with more than 60,000 smart home devices to efforts to make Alexa a resource for gamers using consoles like the Xbox.
The tech giant took another step in that direction today with the introduction of Custom Interfaces, which offers developers and device manufacturers a way to connect gadgets with Alexa and Echo smart speakers.
Custom Interfaces is part of the Gadgets Toolkit introduced in beta last year with partners like toy maker Hasbro, and it allows for more dynamic integration of devices with Echo speakers. While the Gadgets Toolkit can manipulate devices to do things based on an Alexa timer or music — like this twerking teddy bear — Custom Interfaces can go even deeper, with exchanges tied to custom Alexa skills. This allows Alexa to be part of an ongoing story or dialogue as people use toys or board games or play other games in the home.
Custom Interfaces can, for example, make a sound effect every time you score a basket with a toy hoop on the wall and give music lessons with Alexa when it’s connected to a piano keyboard.
Custom Interfaces and Alexa Gadgets Toolkit are both designed to give manufacturers a way to hand account management duties over to Amazon, saving customers the trouble of downloading another app or creating a new user account.
With Custom Interfaces, custom Alexa skills are required to allow manufacturers to configure directives or messages from the skill to the device and from the device to the skill.
Also today: Amazon introduced an invite-only private beta for Custom Interfaces for kids under 13.
In other AI assistant news this week, Strategy Analytics found that Alexa continues to lead in overall global smart speaker sales, but the news for Echo devices isn’t all cheery. An annual review of AI assistants and their ability to accurately answer questions found Alexa trailing both Siri and Google Assistant. The report did find, however, that all popular AI assistants made gains in their ability to accurately respond to user queries.