Thursday, 01 February 2018 12:15

Alexa vocally skills up in Australia: Skills Kit and Voice Service now available

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With Alexa's Skills Kit and Voice Service now available in Australia, it should come as no surprise to see developers already using the Alexa Skills Kit to build new skills and capabilities for local customers.

With Australian developers building skills for Alexa including Coastalwatch, Qantas, Taste, TEN Eyewitness News First at Five, Westpac and NAB, and with global developers are bringing more than 10,000 skills to customers in Australia this year including Uber, Spotify, Philips Hue, and LIFX, Amazon's Alexa is now fully prepared to make Australia homes smarter.

This is augmented by the fact hardware manufacturers can begin developing Alexa-enabled products for Australian customers with the Alexa Voice Service, just in time to head off Apple's HomePod and HomeKit capabilities, and augment itself even further against Google Home.

Steve Rabuchin, Amazon Alexa vice-president, said: "In November we expanded the Alexa Skills Kit to enable developers to start building skills for Australian customers.

“We’ve seen so much innovation in just a short time, and we’re excited to introduce the Alexa Voice Service today, enabling developers and companies around the world to build voice-first experiences and devices for customers in Australia.”

So, what does the Alexa Skills Kit do? It lets developers add capabilities and skills to Alexa.

The company tells us that the Alexa Skills Kit is "a collection of free, self-service APIs and tools that make it fast and easy for developers to create skills, or capabilities, for Alexa".

"With ASK, designers, developers, and brands can build engaging skills and reach millions of customers around the world. Developers don’t need to have a background in natural language understanding or speech recognition to build an Alexa skill. From daily news updates, to interactive games, to smart-home integrations, developers from Australia and all over the world are creating voice-first experiences with Alexa."

And what kind of "Build Skills" can you create with Amazon Web Services?

Amazon says that "whether it’s computing power, database storage, or content delivery, AWS has a wide range of services to help developers build sophisticated applications with increased flexibility, scalability, and reliability".

"The easiest way for Alexa skill developers to connect their skill to the cloud is to use AWS Lambda, an innovative compute service that runs code only when needed and scales automatically, so there is no need to provision or continuously run servers. Developers can also enhance and scale skills using additional AWS offerings such as Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), Amazon DynamoDB, and Amazon CloudFront."

Developer Response – tens of thousands of developers around the world building skills

Naturally, Amazon proudly boasts that developers and brands can now use the Alexa Skills Kit to build skills for customers in Australia, and has a stack of local company quotes at the ready.

  • Coastalwatch is Australia’s most comprehensive source for live beach cameras, surf conditions and wave forecasts.

We're told "they leveraged the Alexa Skills Kit to build the Coastalwatch skill for Alexa, letting customers ask to hear surf conditions at their favourite beaches across Australia".

Nick Gregory, head of Digital at Coastalwatch, said: "We’re excited to add voice capabilities with Alexa to Coastalwatch.

“Simply say, ‘Alexa, ask Coastalwatch for the surf at Bondi', or your wherever your favourite beach is, and instantly get the latest updates before you leave home.”

  • Qantas, Australia’s largest airline, is bringing voice capabilities to its customers with Alexa.

Qantas chief customer officer Olivia Wirth said: "We’re thrilled to offer a voice activated experience to our passengers using Alexa.

“Travellers will be able to simply ask Alexa for their flight details, to check their Qantas Points balance, and hear how close they are to their next loyalty tier.”

  • Taste.com.au is Australia’s most popular resource for recipes.

Using the Alexa Skills Kit, they are bringing recipes and step-by-step cooking instructions to Alexa.

“Cooking becomes simpler and more fun when you can simply ask for your recipe,” said Fiona Nilsson, director of food, News Corp Australia. “The Taste.com.au skill makes it quicker to prep meals and easier to multi-task with no need to walk across the kitchen and turn a page or tap a screen. Just ask Alexa for a recipe and get cooking.”

  • TEN Eyewitness News First at Five, a "trusted, quality source for the latest news", created a flash briefing skill for Alexa.

“We’re thrilled that for the first time Australians can access our breaking stories and the news that matters to them with Alexa,” said Liz Baldwin, Network Ten general manager, Digital. “The TEN News Flash Briefing skill will be voiced by one of the most recognisable and respected newsreaders in Australia, Sandra Sully.”

  • Westpac is one of Australia’s largest banks. It is embracing voice with two new skills for Alexa customers.

“We are committed to finding new, exciting and engaging ways to meet the needs of customers now and in the future,” said George Frazis, chief executive Consumer Bank at Westpac Group. “The Westpac skills for Alexa make banking with us easier than ever. Through the Westpac skill our customers can ask Alexa for their account balance, rewards points balance and recent transactions and our Flash Briefing skill will keep everyone up to date with all the latest finance news.”

  • National Australia Bank, or NAB, is one of Australia’s largest financial institutions.

NAB developed a skill for Alexa to let customers complete certain banking tasks with just their voice. “The NAB skill for Alexa means that important banking information is more easily accessible than ever for our customers,” said Jonathan Davey, executive general manager of Digital and Innovation at NAB. “Now Alexa can help you do things like check your account balance or hear recent transactions – all without the click of a mouse or a keyboard.”

Amazon naturally extends its invitation to developers "to join the Alexa team at upcoming workshops, webinars, and other in-person events to learn about building Alexa skills", with more detail here.

And, what of the Alexa Voice Service, which lets you integrate Alexa into "any connected product?"

Here, we're told that the Alexa Voice Service "enables developers to integrate Alexa directly into their products, bringing the convenience of voice control to any connected device. AVS provides developers with access to a suite of resources to quickly and easily build Alexa-enabled products, including APIs, hardware development kits, software development kits, and documentation".

"Through AVS, device makers can add a new intelligent interface to their products and offer customers access to a growing number of Alexa features, smart home integrations, and skills. Hardware manufacturers can begin developing Alexa-enabled products for Australian customers with the Alexa Voice Service today."

So, what is the developer response Amazon has shared?

The company states "developers have already integrated Alexa into a variety of devices including mobile phones, wearables, smart home devices, and speakers. Tens of thousands of developers are taking advantage of AVS to voice-enable their products".

"Hardware makers are already planning voice-driven experiences for customers in Australia", with Amazon providing some quotes:

  • Sonos will add Alexa voice control capabilities to its Sonos One smart speaker for customers in Australia.

With the Sonos One, customers can just ask Alexa to play great sounding music and ask for thousands of other things including timers, news, smart home controls, and more.

“We’re excited to bring Sonos One with Alexa to customers in Australia,” said Antoine Leblond, vice-president of Software at Sonos. “Sonos One was designed to be the smart speaker for music lovers, so customers will get a great-sounding, multi-room audio experience along with Alexa’s voice capabilities in the same device.”

  • Anker Innovations, a global leader in charging technology and connected devices, has worked with the Alexa Voice Service to develop the eufy Genie, a compact smart speaker.

With Alexa on the eufy Genie, customers can access Alexa’s tens of thousands of skills and capabilities, including controlling smart home products like lights, smart plugs, and more. “We are absolutely thrilled to bring the eufy Genie to customers in Australia,” said Steven Yang, founder and chief executive, Anker.

Amazon says "developers can start building with AVS for customers in Australia today", with more info here.

The company also notes that: "Beginning today, customers in Australia may order Alexa and Echo, Echo Dot, or Echo Plus, with devices shipping in the coming days. Customers in both Australia and New Zealand can purchase devices through local retailers today as well. Australian retailers include JB Hi-Fi, Officeworks, Telstra, and Myer while New Zealand retailers include Noel Lemming and JB Hi-Fi."

Amazon has also announced its music service is now available in Australia, too, more detail will be linked via this sentence shortly.

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