Amazon Streamlines Building Smart Home Alexa Skills
Alexa developers can now combine their apps with smart home devices. Amazon had been piloting the Multi-Capability Skills feature for some time, but the option is now generally available to developers.
Until now, an Alexa developer would need one app to handle smart home capabilities of a device, and another with a different name for features that Alexa’s smart home API didn’t support. With Multi-Capability Skills, both sides are combined into a single voice app, handling both custom skills and the smart home skills built into Alexa. It basically makes an Alexa skill flexible enough to handle custom commands within the existing framework of the voice app. Most smart home devices have an on and off switch, for instance, but a command to change lighting colors is only useful for the relevant devices. With the new feature, both aspects can be included under one Alexa skill.
“With MCS, customers no longer need to search for or enable multiple skills to access all the features of their Alexa-connected device,” Amazon explained in its announcement. “MCS removes the friction of customers needing to remember different skill names, allowing customers to access all the expanded smart home features with a single invocation name. For example, by building a multi-capability skill, Dyson enabled its customers to interact more naturally with their Alexa-connected devices. Customers can control their Dyson fans with commands like “Alexa, set the fan speed to 5,” or “Alexa, set Oscillation to wide,” and set night modes and quiet modes in their daily routines, all features previously not available in a single skill experience.”
Smart Home Economics
Focusing on making life easier for smart home skill developers fits naturally into Amazon’s goals for Alexa. The evidence that people are using voice assistants more and in more ways is growing, especially during the current COVID-19 health crisis, when a lot of people are spending more time at home. There are also new commuter features for Alexa, with directions forwarded to smartphones and proactive weather alerts. Similarly, the new feature may tie into a related new feature for Fire TV. Alexa has new commands that can more finely control playback on Netflix and YouTube in terms of how far to rewind and fast-forward. The new feature also pairs well with the personalization that Amazon is bringing to Alexa. Most recently, Voice app developers gained the option of including names and contact information into their voice apps.
Streamlining all of these features entices developers to think in terms of an Amazon-based smart home, which is exactly what Amazon wants. The trend builds on itself, with every expansion of the developer network, making it easier for the next brand to join. There were more than 100,000 smart home products built by 9,500 different brands supported by Alexa back in December, a 40,000 rise in seven months. Putting all of the control software under one name could speed up that growth even more.