Amazon releases trove of Alexa tools to address developer apathy

The company is hoping to find new ways to help users discover skills with the voice assistant

Amazon is aiming to re-energise its Alexa voice platform with the release of a trove of new developer tools, announced at its Alexa Live conference on Wednesday.

The company hopes the new tools will help create more variety on the platform and encourage Alexa device owners to discover and engage with more Alexa apps and services, referred to as 'skills'.

However, the update has come after a significant drop in new skills being developed over the last three years. As of October 2020, total Alexa skills in the UK were 37,000, and 77,000 in the US, according to research from Voicebot.ai.

The findings suggest that in 2019, the rate of new Alexa skills introduced per day in the US was 58% lower than in 2018, with a further decline of 38% in 2020. The rate of new skills per day in the UK was 66% lower in the first three quarters of 2020 compared to the full year 2019.

Part of the problem is that finding new skills is hampered by its voice-only interface – with users being unable to easily see what's available at a glance. Amazon has attempted to fix this by launching Alexa-enabled devices with smart screens, but with the launch of new tools that help developers better surface their skills to users, the firm clearly feels more could be done.

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This includes a new feature that will see Alexa respond to common requests, such as "Alexa, tell me a story" or "Alexa, let's play a game", with personalised skill suggestions based on customer use. And a new "contextual discovery" mechanism will allow customers to use natural language and phrases to accomplish tasks across skills.

For users with screen-based devices, the new tools include widgets and Featured Skill Cards for developers to promote their news apps – essentially as a way to make Alexa skills discoverable like apps on a mobile phone. 

Amazon is also improving the ways in which developers can monetise their applications with support for 'Paid Skills', and in-skill purchases.

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