Amazon's Alexa dreams are coming to an end with end of Skills program - The UpStream

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Amazon's Alexa dreams are coming to an end with end of Skills program

posted Sunday Apr 14, 2024 by Scott Ertz

When Amazon first launched Alexa and the accompanying speakers, the company intended for the ecosystem to be the center of a user's digital home life - a similar goal to Steve Ballmer's pivot for the Xbox brand. However, despite the company's constant push into new hardware and new concepts, Alexa is still the system you use to turn on your lights and check the weather. As such, Amazon is scaling back its goals and dropping incentives for developers.

Amazon's initial Alexa goals - Alexa Skills

When Alexa first launched, the goal was not just to be a smart speaker ecosystem, but a development platform. While Amazon would develop a series of core features, such as time, weather, shipping info, etc., third-party developers were also given the ability to build for the system. The intention was for developers to build out the capabilities of the platform, making it a screenless smartphone.

Some truly useful Skills have been developed over the years. For example, Microsoft developed an Alexa skill to allow you to control your Xbox with your voice, replacing the native Cortana features when it was retired. In addition, the music companies, like Spotify and Pandora, all have streaming capabilities to compete with Amazon Music. All of this was controllable via voice on your speaker, phone, or microwave - assuming you have an Alexa-powered microwave.

Struggles to get adoption for Skills

However, Amazon has struggled from the beginning to get developers on board. Partially, this is because it requires a new skill set for developers to produce. But, partially, developers noticed that they themselves were not really using any Alexa skills and suspected that they would have little to no usage by others. With that, developers never prioritized Alexa skills in their development pipelines, leaving the ecosystem fairly flat.

In an attempt to get developers to build Skills for Alexa, Amazon created incentive programs. The most prominent was the Alexa Developer Rewards program. This program essentially paid developers to produce and maintain the top apps on the platform. In addition, the program gave Amazon Web Services (AWS) credits to developers to help support those connected Alexa Skills.

Unfortunately, that program is now coming to an end. Amazon will no longer be giving out AWS credits to Skills, effectively disincentivizing developers and platforms from developing new Skills, and possibly killing off existing ones that don't support themselves financially. This can make a positive impact on the platform, with less nonsense Skills to have to wade through looking for something more interesting. But it likely means that some legitimate tools could be going away.

What is the future of Alexa?

As Skills are set to dry up, the future of Alexa is in question. The company had looked at slimming down or cutting the hardware division entirely. However, with the addition of Panos Panay, there is no way the service gets slimmed down entirely. In fact, since his arrival, talks of a strengthened AI-powered service, and possibly even a subscription model for advanced features - like Windows Copilot - have strengthened. Alexa might not be the same service following this move, but she will still be part of our lives.


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