Alexa Gets Even Smarter with New Safety and Entertainment Features
There’s no denying that Alexa has been the leading voice assistant on the market for some time now. At IFA, we learned that Alexa supports more than 50,000 skills around the globe. By comparison, the most recent Google Assistant information we could find show that the platform supports roughly 1,800 Assistant-specific applications.
Simply put, Alexa is one smart digital cookie (pun sort of intended).
That said, Amazon is showing no signs of slowing down when it comes to continually improving the service. During its hardware event earlier this month, the company announced a ton of new Alexa skills alongside all of those new Echo device launches. The three key areas that the new skills seemed to focus on were convenience, safety, and entertainment.
“Over the past year we’ve made incredible scientific advances in Alexa’s Artificial Intelligence. We have applied deep neural networks to advance Alexa's ability to detect challenging acoustic phenomena such as whispered speech and anomalous events like glass breaking; made breakthroughs in combining transfer learning and deep learning to teach Alexa new languages and capabilities faster,” Rohit Prasad, Vice President and Head Scientist, Amazon Alexa, said in a statement. “We’ve only scratched the surface of A.I.-powered inventions and we’ll continue to invent ways to make Alexa more useful for our customers.”
What’s most striking about the new skills is that, collectively, they’re making Alexa more of a must-have service rather than just a nice-to-have in-home gadget. Like with most things consumer tech, early adopters were drawn to the concept of voice control because of the cool things it could do, as well as its future potential. At the outset, voice control let you control music, your lights, and have awkward interactions with these digital assistants—Alexa, or otherwise.
But what we’re seeing now from developers—and particularly Amazon—is that they’re very quickly creating a compelling case as to why Alexa ought to be in every room in your home, or with you in your car. Voice control is no longer just about entertainment and organizing shopping lists; it’s also a way to protect your home, make life more convenient, and yes have a little bit of fun as well.
Take the new security skills for example. Amazon announced Alexa Guard, which will be available later this year. When enabled, Alexa will intuitively turn lights on and off around the home to simulate the presence of someone in the home in order to deter potential intruders. Additionally, it’ll integrate with alarm systems from Ring and ADT to keep your home safe, and alert users to things like the sound of glass breaking, smoke detectors, or carbon monoxide alarms in the home.
Amazon will also roll out a Local Voice Control service that lets users continue to control their connected lights, plugs, and switches with their voice through an Echo device (with a built-in hub) in the event of an internet outage. And there’s the new two-way talk feature that will work with Ring and August doorbell cameras, letting you interact with visitors no matter where you are.
And all of that just barely scratches the surface of the new slate of Alexa skills. There are routine-based actions coming, a simple WiFi setup for new Alexa-enabled devices, location-based reminders, new cooking skills, email integration, more calling options, a built-in web browser, tons of new entertainment features, FreeTime routines to give kids ways to engage with Alexa, and more.
Voice control is still in its infancy, but it’s clear that it’s catching on. Recent Parks Associates research suggests that voice assistant penetration will near 50 percent of U.S. broadband-connected homes within the next three to four years. Right now, the features users are most interested in include simple functions like turning TVs on and off or controlling the volume. But as Amazon and others continue to roll out these convenience- and security-based skills, consumers will realize the importance of this platform.
We’re still at the point where we’re talking about the future potential of voice control. However, with all of these new Alexa skills, it feels like we’ve taken a huge stride towards the end of the runway and are on the verge of takeoff.