Amazon today announced the general availability of Multi-Capability Skills for Alexa, a way to combine smart home and custom Alexa apps into single, unified voice apps. Starting this week, developers can publish and maintain an Alexa app that enables both internet of things and third-party features for their devices, extending built-in smart home commands with custom voice interaction models to support nearly any feature without forcing customers to enable and invoke two separate apps.
Before the advent of Multi-Capability Skills, Alexa developers had to publish and maintain multiple apps to enable custom features: a smart home app to leverage built-in smart home capabilities and a custom app to support capabilities not included in the Alexa smart home API. Now they don’t — and customers don’t have to remember two different app names. In this way, Multi-Capability Skills make it easier for developers to create better Alexa experiences. For example, they could leverage Alexa’s support for utterances to create an app that recognizes the commands “Alexa, ask Roomba to vacuum the kitchen” and “Alexa, ask this skill ‘What can this device do?'”
Amazon says that already Dyson has built a Multi-Capability Skill to enable customers to interact more naturally with its devices via Alexa using commands like “Alexa, set the fan speed to 5” and “Alexa, set Oscillation to wide,” as well as setting night modes and quiet modes in their Alexa-programmed routines. For its part, TP-Link used Multi-Capability Skills to let Alexa users in the U.S. with compatible TP-Link routers access expanded features in a single app, like control over internet access across a household’s connected devices (e.g., “Alexa, pause internet for Timmy’s iPad” or “Alexa, ask TP-Link to enable gaming mode”).
Developers with existing Alexa apps can update those apps through the Alexa Developer Console as part of the configuration workflow or add models to base apps using the Alexa Developer Console. Alternatively, they can create Multi-Capability Skills on live app development, allowing for the testing of expanded feature support before the app (or apps) are submitted for certification.
There’s a reason Amazon is devoting time and attention to smart home device integrations. Smart home device shipments are expected to experience a 26.9% year-over-year uptick to 832.7 million units by 2020 and to hit 1.6 billion units by 2023. And of the 75% of respondents to a recent Dashbot survey who use voice assistants like Alexa at least once a day, 23% say they control smart home devices with their assistant. Of that group, 63% tap assistants for home automation multiple times a day.
Amazon also this week announced that it’s expanding the ways Alexa developers can use voice profiles in their apps with the Person Profile API. Apps using Alexa voice profiles can now incorporate contact information like full names, first names, and mobile numbers to personalize how the voice assistant engages with users. “[W]hen a customer’s voice is recognized, [apps] can request customer permission to access certain contact information and further personalize their experience,” Amazon explains in a blog post. “For example, a game [app] can request to incorporate the customer name for a global leaderboard. Further, a food delivery [app] can request to send updates on the food delivery status to customers on their mobile number.”
The Person Profile API remains in preview for now. Developers can apply to personalize their app experiences by completing a short survey; Amazon says it’ll notify those who are selected.
In somewhat related news, Alexa on Fire TV devices now supports additional commands for select third-party apps including Netflix and YouTube. Alexa can control the playback of clips, TV shows, and movies with phrases like “Alexa, forward thirty minutes” and “Alexa, rewind twenty seconds” as well as perform searches across apps like Disney+, JioCinema, Apple TV+, MX Player TV, Eros, and Viu.