Month: September 2018

Amazon ahead in monetization options for voice platforms

From all the voice platforms out there Amazon Alexa is the one offering more monetization options for creators. Even if these options are still limited, there are reports by several successful skills that are doing ok. No one seem to be the next Facebook, Insta or Uber just yet. As far I know, Google Assistant has little to no option of monetization, Samsung Bixby is offering some prizes now for capsules builders, but that’s not a monetization strategy and Microsoft Cortana doesn’t have any as far as I know either. I talked about monetization strategies a while back and that the time I said:

The most obvious monetization strategy is what’s known in Alexa as ISP: In skill purchasing, a way to sell premium content such as game features and interactive stories or sell products. 

Amazon is the one pushing the most for monetization options. This is not that strange, because Bezos, and by extension, Amazon understand incentives very well. E.g: affiliate program in, the free tier in AWS and prizes for Alexa skills.

To top that Amazon announced yesterday that developers can now sell consumables in their skills leveraging in skill purchasing.

A consumable is an in-skill product that customers can purchase, use, and then purchase again. In addition to one-time purchases and subscriptions, consumables give developers more ways to deliver premium experiences to customers.

Meaning, users can pay to unlock features in your skills.

The feature is already live in Storyline and VoiceApps where you can use consumables with visual tools in addition of the Alexa Skill Kit CLI.

Another opportunity for developers and skill creators to monetize their work with Alexa skills. As I have said before, developer attention is the currency for companies today and by providing recurring means of revenue to skills developers Amazon keeps getting the attention in the voice space.

Strategic partnerships are driving the voice revolution

We are going to build amazing new voice-base, mobile experiences for customers.

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce tweeted this morning.

Salesforce and Apple announced today a new strategic partnership. Looking to win in the enterprise, the partnership means that a salesperson can use Siri after a customer meeting to update that customer’s record with notes from the meeting. Salesforce will be redesigning its mobile app working with Apple and building Siri deeper into Salesforce mobile apps.

Tim Cook said in an interview: If you look at enterprise in general, voice has not been used as much as in consumer, we’re changing the way people work, and that’s always been at the heart of what Apple is about — changing things for the better.

In that vein, Microsoft announced today as well they are launching Cortana Skills Kit for the enterprise. The product lead, Javier Soltero said  that:

The goal is to make Cortana skills and conversational computing in the workplace as easy to use as smartphones are today, requiring no lengthy introduction or user manual.

Enterprise is the next battleground for voice technology

I mentioned here after the special event Apple held, that maybe they were unequipped to compete in a voicefirst world. And this kind of sum it up: they probably are, and establishing this partnership to win the enterprise is a smart move. Shortcuts in apps, plus this integration, Apple can tap into Salesforce developers and its own platform developers to incorporate more Shortcuts and knowledge to Siri, they are basically crowdfunding the platform with knowledge. But this is also a response to Amazon and Microsoft partnership. Reportedly, Facebook is also partnering with Amazon to incorporate Alexa to their Portal smart assistant to be launch later this week, according to a report by Cheddar.

There hasn’t been that many times at the beginning of a technological wave, like we are now with voice, that companies have been collaborating in this way. It certainly didn’t happened for the Apple Store or mobile.

So in that sense, we will be hearing more about partnerships, to tap into each other’s strengths. If this isn’t a sign that voice is the next revolution in computing, nothing else might be. The question is who is next? And how long will this last?

Shortcuts: jobs to be done .. by me?

With the release last week of iOS 12 iPhone app developers can integrate an “Add to Siri” button right in their app’s interface for common tasks that their app can perform – like playing a favorite playlist, for instance.

When a user taps this button, they’ll be directed to a screen where they can record their own custom voice command to launch whatever task or action the developer is suggesting.

These are some of the apps that you can try Shortcuts today:

  • Pandora: After you “Add to Siri” in the settings for Pandora, you can then choose a specific station, album, or playlist and record a custom phrase to say the next time they want to hear it.
  • Streaks: The habit tracker app also added an Add to Siri option that will allow users to record custom phrases to complete their tasks.
  • PCalc: will let you record voice commands for any common activity in the app, like converting currencies, setting the clipboard, opening conversions, and more.

Other apps with shortcuts are Sky Guide, Things, Carrot Weather, The Weather Channel, City Mapper, Google News and TripIt.

Jobs to be done… by me?

Even though I was quite disappointed with Apple’s stance on voice during their special event, I’m watching closely their moves. Bringing Brian Roemmele’s thoughts on Shortcuts as powerful kernels for Siri, made by the developers themselves, as a way to have this concept of jobs to be done. What concerns me though with this approach, is that there is so much cognitive load that we can handle in any given moment. The fact that I have to set all of this, and then remember what shortcut I use for the playlist and which to open my cards on Trello put the load on me as the consumer and not in the machine.

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Hands-free call from Alexa with Skype

This week Skype announced their excitement to bring Skype to Alexa. Using only your voice, users can make outgoing Skype voice and video calls, accept incoming Skype calls, and even make SkypeOut calls to most phone numbers around the world. Sample phrases are “Lexi, call Jimmy on Skype,” or if Jimmy is calling you on Skype, say, “Lexi, answer.”

VentureBeat reported on the collaboration that

Adding support for an app with hundreds of millions of users, that happens to be one of the oldest and best-known ways to make video calls, is an awful lot better than starting from zero.

This is part of the collaboration between Microsoft and Amazon in a very smart play. The companies previously released Cortana and Alexa integration, their respective smart assistants and Xbox integration.

I can’t stress enough how genius Amazon (and Microsoft are both playing here with voice). I’m not sure how long this friendship is going to last but is certainly a win win for consumers. I have never make calls through Alexa but frequently use Skype, now I can do it outside my phone or computer, it doesn’t sound like much, but if you are having long calls, as I often have with my cofounder, it’s good to be able to focus on your work in the computer while handling the call by voice.

Amazon bets on more Alexa powered devices

Yesterday took place the Amazon private hardware presentation event where the company announced several devices including an Alexa clock, a new (louder) Echo Dot, an Echo Subwoofer, an Echo for the car. The list does not end there, as I said in a previous episode Amazon consider the TV to be the most important device in the house and they presented yesterday a live-recording Fire TV Recast focused on live-recording TV and beaming that video to other devices you have. Add to that list a new Echo Show that works with a Skype and it’s featuring a new design.

One of the devices I wanted to here more is the Alexa microwave. With Alexa controls and a dash button to order popcorn, the microwave doesn’t have voice controls per se but it can communicate with an Echo near where you can send it commands like add one minute of cooking. TechCrunch regarded the microwave as unnecessary and I think it is a key piece. Is the only device introduced where you will be able to directly order something, it’s being sold as part of Amazon basics for only $60. It’s part of the experimentation strategy Amazon has been following with devices, and this seemed to be only the beginning. I will watch this trend closely.

Finally, the device that has been receiving more comments on Twitter at least is the Alexa clock. It shows your timers

On the software side 3 main announcements: Two updates to Alexa: Guard mode which can be set when users are away and will listen for more than just its name, including noises like glass breaking and Hunches a system where Alexa will learn about certain smart home habits and offer occasional suggestions if it gets the feeling you forgot to do something like turn off an outdoor porch light before you go to bed. The third one is the Alexa Presentation Language, but I’ll dive into that on Monday when I will have time to play with it and have a better model of what it does.

Amazon is dominating the smart home with this presentation of array of devices and possibilities of effectively integrating Alexa everywhere.

Business insider reported in response to the announcements that Amazon didn’t say a single thing about voice shopping, which was something of a marquee feature when Alexa was first developed. And quote

Voice shopping is an often-hyped feature of voice assistants, but it has yet to reach the promise of it being the future of digital commerce.

I do see all of this totally related to voice commerce. This is Alexa in your home, when the moment comes to order something, even if it’s reportedly not happen that often now, and you have the feature in your microwave and your car, where are you going to look for? It’s about the connection with the consumer Amazon has always been keen on.