Amazon gives developers access to Alexa device home screens, aiming to revitalize market for skills

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Alexa users will be able to access content from third-party skills on the Echo Show home screen later this year, under a new developer feature announced by Amazon today. (Amazon Photo)

Amazon will offer independent software developers a slice of the most important real estate on Alexa devices, giving users the option to see and interact with content from third-party Alexa skills on their home screens for the first time.

Developers will be able to create widgets for their Alexa skills, and users who have activated those skills will be able to add the widgets to their home screens on the Echo Show and other Alexa devices with displays starting later this year.

In addition, Amazon will let developers promote their skills in the regular rotation of content on the Echo Show home screen, using a tool called Featured Skill Cards.

The news, announced Wednesday morning, is part of a broader effort by Amazon to boost developer interest in Alexa skills, which are the equivalent of apps for Amazon Echo devices and other Alexa-enabled hardware.

Amazon announced more than 50 new developer features and tools as part of its Alexa Live virtual conference. The company described it as the single largest developer update in Alexa’s history.

The announcements included new ways for developers to reach Alexa users, promote and monetize their skills, and connect their skills to smartphone apps.

The news follows reports of a slowdown in the growth of new Alexa skills last year. Amazon says there are now more than 130,000 Alexa skills. The company reached 100,000 skills in September 2019, nearly two years ago.

As smart-home technology has evolved and expanded, it has become more difficult for users to find and connect with skills and features, said Adam Wright, a senior analyst for smart home and office devices with the IDC research firm. That’s a key piece of context for many of the announcements Amazon made today.

“Search and discoverability of content is at a point that’s becoming burdensome,” Wright said. “Amazon is recognizing that, and trying to overcome that by giving developers better tools.”

Amazon notes that the number of customers who use third-party Alexa skills is growing 40% year-over-year, in areas including music and games. In addition, the company says the Alexa platform helps to generate billions of dollars in revenue for developers and device makers.

“We’re proud of the progress, but also the sheer number of features that that we’re launching shows that there’s lots of interesting growth ahead,” said Aaron Rubenson, vice president of Alexa Voice Service & Alexa Skills, in an interview in advance of the Alexa Live conference this week.

Developers who participate in the Featured Skill Cards preview will not need to pay for the promotion of their skills on customer home screens, Rubenson said.

Amazon Alexa competes against Apple Siri, Google Assistant and other voice assistants on smart-home devices, living-room displays and smartphones.

While Amazon offers an Alexa app for smartphones, it doesn’t have the benefit of its own smartphone operating system, as Apple and Google do. However, the Seattle tech giant continues to capitalize on its early mover advantage to maintain its lead in smart-home devices. Alexa debuted on Amazon’s first Echo speaker in 2014.

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