300 million smart home devices now connected to Alexa

Updated July 22 with clarification on when Disney’s Assistant tech will be released

Today, as part of its Alexa Live event, Amazon released several new technologies and software updates for its Alexa personal assistant platform. Most are smart home related, but many are about driving Amazon’s AI-powered assistant platform everywhere.

Literally.

In your ear, in your car, in your hotel, in your office and, of course, in your home.

“Our goal is ambient computing,” Amazon vice president for Alexa Aaron Rubenson told me yesterday. “Some are rooted in the phone or virtual reality, but our goal is to keep [people] looking up, to always be available when you need it, but also to disappear when you don’t.

Amazon, which also announced today that more than 300 million smart home devices are now connected to Alexa, announced several new technologies to improve Alexa, make Alexa available everywhere, and make smart home setup easier, including:

  • Integrations with the Matter smart home protocol jointly developed by Amazon, Apple, Google and others
  • New Technology for “Frustration-Free Setup” of Smart Home Devices
  • Multi-admin technology allows users to easily control smart home devices with the app of their choice
  • The Alexa Ambient Home SDK to help smart home devices integrate, “know” when you’re on vacation, “understand” they can vacuum while you’re in the office, and take smart metrics like alerting you when an Echo device hears broken glass or detects audible smoke or carbon monoxide alarms
  • Sync modes between all your devices, so in sleep mode they are silent, in holiday mode they keep the appearance of human activity, in dinner time mode they turn on background music and appropriate lighting.
  • Alexa Routines, which are pre-created sets of instructions that brands can offer their customers. Jaguar Land Rover, for example, runs a “Goodnight” routine that will check the car is locked, check the fuel or charge level, and make sure Guardian Mode is on.
  • Agent Transfers: If Alexa decides she can’t process a request, she can transfer you to an assistant who can do so confidentially
  • Promoted Skills: A way for Alexa Skills developers to promote their skills to Alexa users and Amazon customers. Also: Amazon is increasing the revenue split from 70/30 in favor of the developer to 80/20 for developers earning less than $1 million per year, plus a time-limited 10% bonus.
  • Alexa Conversation, which Amazon says is a richer, more natural style of conversation in Skills. This will allow, for example, a much more natural food ordering experience in the Panera skill.
  • Skills Quality Coach, which will help Skill Developers to develop better and more useful skills
  • Alexa Shopping Kit, which will help Skills developers sell items on Amazon in their Skills and earn referral fees of up to 10%.

One of the new integrations is for third-party headphones like Skullcandy. Although Skullcandy has long had “Hey Skullcandy”, it has been quite limited. Working with Native Voice, which provides control over multiple voice assistants for consumer electronics, users can now ask their Skullcandy headphones where their Amazon package is or turn on the lights at home.

“Voice is going mobile,” Native Voice CEO and Founder John Goscha told me yesterday. “It was on the counter, but now we’re seeing incredible growth on the outside.”

Maybe, although I don’t see many people willing to speak commands out loud in public places. There are still taboos.

But it’s clear that Amazon is taking Alexa pretty much everywhere it can. Audi, BMW, Ford and Jeep have integrated Alexa support, Disney plans to offer an Alexa-powered digital assistant at its stations (but it’ll be Hey Disney there), as well as several other locations. Physical locations now using Alexa include hotels, hospitals, and nursing homes, Amazon’s Rubenson told me. Clearly, allowing older people to simply voice their requests or ask for help audibly rather than using a smartphone or other system can save their lives.

The voice is intuitive, Rubenson added: you don’t need to learn how to use it.

Amazon clearly makes nonmonopolistic behavior a priority by offering multiple multi-assistant experiences and working to integrate with additional assistants and technologies from other companies. Customers should be able to choose which smart home devices are in the house, Rubenson says, and that includes choosing which assistants to use.

Amazon also announced a new level of integration with Sonos (which I’ve long believed should be bought by Apple or Amazon to unlock the full value of its ecosystem). The details are light, but “Sonos and Alexa will be working side-by-side on a number of their products,” Rubenson said.

“Every brand needs an ambient strategy,” he added. “We have more than doubled the number of active Alexa customers over the past three years.”

Most of today’s announcements are about development: SDKs, technologies and programs for brands and developers integrating voice assistant and ambient computing into their products, customer experience and strategies. What we see here is a maturity and breath of strategy that Apple and Google, Amazon’s main competitors in smart home and AI assistant technology, will struggle to replicate.

Sherry J. Basler