Alexa for Apps Wants to Launch TikTok and Other Apps for You
Amazon today announced a new feature that will enable Alexa in your mobile app to launch iOS and Android apps based on certain queries. Alexa for Apps is currently in preview with forthcoming implementations from Twitter, TikTok, Yellow Pages, and Volley. The core value is that users will be able to deep link into mobile apps based on a query submitted through Alexa.
This will eliminate multiple taps making it more efficient to launch features within participating mobile apps. However, for now, Voicebot is told that it only works when the entire experience is in mobile. That means users will access this feature through the Alexa app to activate other apps but not be able to launch mobile apps directly from their smart speaker. If you have your Alexa app open this might be more convenient but otherwise, the taps used to open the Alexa app so you can speak the command may make it more efficient to just go directly to the app you’d like to control.
Voice Assistant Attention Shifts to Mobile
Up through 2018 and early 2019, the predominant focus around voice assistants was voice-first apps designed to run on smart speakers, displays, and other fixed devices. That has increasingly shifted to mobility in 2019-2020 centered around the car and smartphones. Lacking a global smartphone OS or history working in the car, these have not been Alexa’s strong suit. Alexa Auto has established an OS-like option for automakers to embed Alexa as a native solution such as in GM cars and a projection technology similar to Apple CarPlay in implementations such as that used by Toyota. However, the smartphone has been more elusive in many ways because the iOS and Android are so entrenched.
There have been a few smartphone makers to enable Alexa as a default voice assistant on some Android devices. Coolpad, HTC, Huawei, LG and, Motorola were the first to take these steps. Amazon shared a list of a dozen smartphones with Vociebot that are available in North America, Europe, and India and enable users to set Alexa as the default assistant. Voicebot data from 2020 show that about 20% of North American consumers have tried Alexa on a smartphone but keep in mind that all of these devices also offer native access to Google Assistant. That means Alexa is an alternative and an option that is not deeply integrated into the OS. With that said, the ability for Alexa to be voice addressable even when in background, to be set as a default assistant, and now to interact directly with mobile apps.
Amazon is taking a new approach with Alexa for apps and leveraging the fact that the Alexa App is on over 100 million smartphones worldwide and likely twice that figure, a number that dwarfs the smartphones where it can be set as a default assistant. If your Alexa app is open, and if an mobile app maker has enabled Alexa for Apps, then a user can invoke Alexa on the smartphone to open or deep link into that app. This isn’t exactly full Alexa control for mobile apps, but it could be a functional option to show what can be done and provide a gateway to more usage. Although not part of today’s announcement, you could also imagine this being used in the future through a smart speaker directly opening a mobile app on your smartphone. This is an initial step in that direction.
A Step Beyond Siri Shortcuts But Not Voice Control for Apps
The implementation is a step beyond Siri shortcuts but has similar characteristics. Siri shortcuts enable you to set a spoken phrase that when recognized by Siri will deep link into a mobile app. This requires steps by both the app developer to enable a shortcut and the user to set up the shortcut. Alexa for Apps just requires the app developer to enable Alexa control and then any Alexa user can use a natural language utterance to access the app feature. That removes some friction in establishing Siri shortcut users.
However, neither approach enables the user to employ voice to interact with the app once it is opened. Alexa and Siri both let the user access the app but not control it. For a true voice interactive experience, app developers will still need to build out their own custom voice assistant functionality.
The introduction of Alexa of Apps doesn’t fundamentally change the fact that Alexa is not native to the leading smartphones by market share today. It is an app that can interact with other apps on a limited basis. A key benefit is that if users employ skills through the Alexa app, it can enable them to offer better experiences if, for example, they want to show an image or video which you currently cannot do in the Alexa app. But, this begs the question about why they aren’t already in the mobile app and are trying to use a skill through Alexa. Amazon now has provided a bridge between Alexa and mobile apps and may have increased the value of using Alexa on mobile. However, its fundamental challenges remain given that native assistants such as Siri and Google Assistant have a distinct advantage on platforms they control at the OS level.