British developers can now build and sell voice-powered apps – or what Amazon calls “skills” – via Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa, which has shipped on well over 100 million devices globally.
So-called “in-skill purchasing” (ISP) came out of developer preview today, with Amazon making it generally available and promising an “industry standard” 30-70 revenue split for apps on Alexa Skills Store.
ISP has already launched in the US, where Amazon has rolled tens of thousands of “skills” like language lessons, burglar deterrents and more into Alexa. Other examples of existing apps include those to buy/sell train tickets, or theatre tickets for plays in London’s West End, along with games.
Voice, in short, is rapidly becoming the new enterprise application playground and Amazon wants British application developer talent and enterprises to get more heavily involved in building up the Alexa ecosystem (while also potentially making money for themselves, if they can develop a popular offering).
Alexa Skills: Voice Booms, Apps Industry Just Emerging
Speaking from Seattle, Eric King, Amazon’s Director of Product Marketing for Alexa, told Computer Business Review: “Alexa comes in all sorts of form factors. We’ve got speakers, we’ve got devices with screens and increasingly we’ve got a huge number of third-party devices that have Alexa built in to it; including cars from BMW, Ford, Toyota.”
He added: “Over 80 percent of customers with an Echo device or an Alexa-enabled have used a ‘skill’ and billions of interactions have happened between customers and these third-party capabilities that developers are building. It’s been a wild ride, a lot of fun working with this developer community; helping them experiment, helping them build me capabilities – but until now they really haven’t had a direct business model in the UK to double down on.”
“We want to help them really find ways to make money building Alexa skills.”
“Alexa is a huge business for us; as a growing business for us. It’s something we’re very interested in continuing to invest in and helping build an ecosystem around.”
Different Ways to Monetise Alexa Skills
ISP supports a range of approaches to commercialising a ‘skill’, including one-time purchases to unlock access to features or content in a given skill, subscriptions that offer access to premium features or content for a period of time, and consumables, which can be purchased, depleted, and purchased again.
“With an in-skill subscription, you can offer access to premium features or content for a period of time”, Amazon said. “For example, the skill Big Sky, which delivers personalized weather information, offers a subscription that enables customers to customize the experience even further with personalized weather alerts.”
Enterprises or developers looking to start building an Alexa skill can implement ISP in one of two ways:
- Via the ASK Developer Console, which offers a “more guided experience and one single location to build and track your skill” or,
- Via the ASK Command-Line Interface (CLI), which lets developers manage Alexa skills programmatically from the command line.
OK, Why Call Them “Skills”?
Corporations mangling the English language is no newer a phenomenon than journalists doing the same: but why use the term “skills”?
Eric King said: “App has a connotation that you’re essentially downloading something. I mean there are parallels, to be very clear, but what is different is that we really there’s there’s nothing to download; it doesn’t take up any storage on your device. And you’re essentially adding to the knowledge base or the capability of Alexa, as well as, with the skills like language lessons, your own skills”.
How Active is the UK’s Existing Alexa Skills Community?
Amazon’s Eric King told us: “There are tens of thousands of active developers in the UK building skills on Alexa. We’ve nurtured that community from essentially zero four years ago, to where we are today. You’ve got the indie developers – sort of one-man bands or two-woman bands – who are in their garage; and you’ve got this emerging class of voice studio or a new voice agency as well.”
With Alexa users interacting largely by voice and not necessarily trawling through the online version of the Alexa Skills Store, how does Amazon plan to facilitate app discovery on the platform? Is it a case of pay-to-play with ads serving premium ‘skills’ to drivers, or people in their kitchens interacting with the assistant?
King told Computer Business Review: “Discovery is a challenge we’re working on every day. It’s an evolution and this is super early days; we don’t do what you’re asking about, which is essentially some form of paid product placement or advertising that allow people’s capabilities to bubble to the top; we don’t we don’t have any plans to doing that at this time.”
“What we do do, is constantly comb our catalogue skills and capabilities for things that are highly rated and highly engaging as determined by prior customer experience. We’ll then find ways to get that in front of customers that are built into the natural flow of conversation. For instance if someone asks about the weather, we may have Alexa has ‘would you like to subscribe to regular updates from the Weather Channel'”.
As it pushes the opportunity, Amazon has made a range of resources available for developers, including:
- Starter Kit: How to Make Money with Alexa Skills
- Code Deep Dive: Implementing In-Skill Purchasing for Entitlements with Node.js
- Add ISP to Your Skill Code
- Sample Code on GitHub
With voice assistant usage going mainstream and more than 60,000 smart home products that can be controlled with Alexa available from over 7,400 brands, businesses may be asking themselves if they can afford to sit on the sidelines as others target users.