Imagine you come home from work, and there’s loud, obnoxious music blaring from the speakers in your living room. You may know which family member turned it on, but you may not know which voice assistant they used to do so — was it Amazon’s Alexa, Sonos Voice Control or Hey Spotify?
This is a problem that’s likely to become more common as all kinds of companies embrace the concept of “ambient computing” — computing capabilities that move seamlessly between every facet of your life. As you move from your smart home to your smart car, with your smart ear buds in hand, different brands are likely to have their own AI assistants ready to help you.
“We’re really starting to see this vision for Alexa and ambient intelligence become a reality,” Aaron Rubenson, Amazon’s VP of Alexa Voice Service & Alexa Skills, said to ZDNet. “I’d argue that every brand needs to have an ambient strategy at this point.”
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Amazon is fully aware, though, that it could get confusing to have so many voice assistants at your disposal. At its Alexa Live developer event on Wednesday, the company said it’s introducing support for what it calls Universal Device Commands, which cover foundational controls for a device — such as adjusting the volume, turning off a timer that’s going off, or stopping an audio stream.
So in the scenario above, if your teenager turned on their atrocious music with Alexa, you should still be able to say to your Sonos speakers, “Hey Sonos, stop,” and the music should stop.
“There are certain things that we believe any voice assistant that’s on a device should be able to control,” Rubenson said.
The introduction of Universal Device Commands builds on the collaborative approach to ambient computing that Amazon has taken in recent years. In 2019, the company launched the Voice Interoperability Initiative to ensure that users can interact with more than one voice assistant on a single device.
The initiative launched with the cooperation of 35 companies, and it now includes more than 90. Notably, Apple, Google and Samsung are not part of the initiative. When asked whether these three major companies would support the proposed Universal Device Commands, Rubenson said Amazon couldn’t yet share specifics pertaining to compatible voice services outside of Alexa. More information about the implementation of Universal Device Commands should be available over the next year.
Ambient computing “is a big vision, and we’ve known from the beginning that we can’t achieve it by ourselves,” Rubenson said. “Developers and device makers have always been central to this vision for ambient computing technology and to the growth of Alexa.”
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The stats bear that out: more than 20% of all Alexa interactions involve customers interacting with some third-party skill, Rubenson said. That’s tens of billions of interactions overall. Similarly, in the smart home arena, customers have now connected more than 300 million smart home devices to Alexa.
There are now more than one million developers, device makers and brands that are building with Alexa in aggregate, across a broad spectrum of industries, including TV makers, automakers and more. Even brands like Disney are integrating Alexa into their experiences and services.
Meanwhile, during Wednesday’s Alexa Live Event, Amazon announced a series of new and enhanced developer kits that should keep Alexa’s user momentum alive:
- The Alexa Connect Kit SDK for Matter extends Alexa Connect Kit’s cloud connectivity and managed services to Matter devices. Matter is a communication standard aimed at promoting interoperability between IoT devices.
- Alexa Ambient Home Dev Kit includes a new collection of APIs and services to extend a variety of Alexa smart home features to developers. This should provide a more unified smart home experience for end users.
- Alexa Voice Service (AVS) SDK 3.0 combines the Alexa Smart Screen SDK and the AVS Device SDK. This should streamline the development of voice and multimodal experiences.
- Alexa Routines Kit (ARK) helps skill builders offer pre-built routines to their customers when they interact with their skill. For instance, Jaguar Land Rover is using the Alexa routines kit to create a routine they call “Goodnight.” The routine will perform tasks like making sure the vehicle is locked, charged or fueled up and turned on to “Guardian” mode.
Amazon also announced various ways it’s helping developers promote their skills and grow their businesses:
- The Skill Developer Accelerator Program (SDAP) offers developers updated incentives and new benefits to help improve skill quality, discoverability and engagement.
- The Promoted Skills feature lets skill builders run paid campaigns to promote their skills.
- The Alexa Shopping Kit is a suite of features that allows skill builders to embed shopping experiences within their skill. Customers can discover, research, and purchase relevant products.
- Increased revenue sharing: For developers who earn less than $1 million per year in aggregate annual revenue from In-Skill Purchasing (ISP), Subscriptions, and Paid Skills, Amazon is increasing the base revenue share from 70-30 to 80-20, with 80% going to developers. In addition, these developers will also receive 10% of their skills’ earnings as an additional value-back incentive. This incentive will be paid out in cash for 2022.