As of today, June 28, 2016, Amazon’s Skills Kit for its Alexa AI assistant is officially a year old. The service has allowed users and developers to interact with Alexa in entirely new ways. While developers have managed to pack Alexa with over 1,400 skills, growing the library about five times over since January of 2016, users have largely found and accessed those skills the same way. Until now, that is. An update to the Alexa system set to begin rolling out today brings the ability to activate abilities by voice, as well as new ways of sorting skills while searching for them. Coincidentally, the Alexa Fund, having invested in 16 startups thus far with the goal of spurring development for Alexa, has also been around for a year.
When search for skills, users will be able to search by category, such as Smart Home, and add in custom filters from there. Users can also access skills they’ve already loaded up through the My Skills section. As far as launching skills, a user can now simply use the phrase, “Alexa, enable” and then the name of a skill to turn on that skill. The new activation method should boost skill activations beyond their already sizable numbers, boasting over 3 million activations for just the top 10 Alexa skills thus far. The total skill portfolio is bolstered by tens of thousands of third-party developers and over 10,000 registered developers for the Alexa ecosystem.
Amazon’s Alexa system seems to be growing in capability at an astronomical pace by building in crowd-sourced capabilities, but will still face stiff competition from the likes of Google Assistant and Cortana for the foreseeable future, giving developers some alternatives in developing consumer-facing AI tools, should the companies behind those solutions open them to development. Otherwise, despite any applicable machine learning prowess, Alexa may well outclass competing solutions for quite some time simply due to massive developer support and integration with Amazon’s services. With popular services and names like FitBit and Jeopardy on board, Alexa looks poised to lean heavily on third-party development and integration into third-party products to attain ubiquity and compete with others in its field.