Alexa gears up for Matter and a context-aware smart home – Stacey on IoT

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Amazon is bolstering several elements of its Alexa ecosystem to drive developer revenue, boost Routines, and ensure developers can build Alexa devices that are also Matter-enabled. Amazon is also adding APIs for ambient intelligence to the home as it attempts to build a digital assistant that can take advantage of contextual cues. These updates and more were all announced Wednesday at the Alexa Live virtual developer event.

I’m very excited about Amazon’s work with Routines and the launch of their new Ambient APIs. On the routines front, Amazon will allow developers to create their own routines and then easily share them with Alexa users. For example, Signify could suggest Philips Hue users create a goodbye routine that could automatically turn specific lights on and off in a random pattern while the owner was away from home. I love this because it takes some of the burden off users of thinking of their own routines and then going through the trouble of creating them manually.

Amazon’s 15-inch Echo Show. Image courtesy of Amazon.

Aaron Rubenson, vice president of Amazon Alexa, explains that Alexa could suggest a preset routine to users and let them activate it. Users can also search for preset routines in the Alexa app. Additionally, users can customize a developer’s preset routines by adding other Alexa-supported devices. This creates a building block for users that might inspire them to continue using the routines. Amazon will benefit from more Routines because according to Rubenson, Alexa Routine users have four times more engagement with Alexa.

On the Matter front, Amazon has several updates, including a new Alexa Connect Kit SDK that’s certified to work with the upcoming Matter smart home interoperability standard. Alexa Connect Kit is the hardware module that allows developers to insert pre-configured silicon and sensors to run Alexa directly into their product. This new version of the Alexa Connect Kit SDK will allow hardware developers to put Matter-enabled software on their device without having to implement it themselves. The device maker will also receive Alexa Connect Kit managed services for its Matter devices, including cloud connectivity and OTA updates for device lifecycle management, logs and metrics.

The Matter protocol will also support a feature called multi-admin, which will allow a user to switch between different control devices. In theory, this means that someone will have multiple PDAs or a PDA and a device manufacturers app can control the app from a variety of administrators and share information associated with that device across all platforms. In practical terms, Rubenson says Amazon’s support will allow users to tag a device and place it in a room or group in Alexa or in the app and share data in both places. This is less of a special feature than an indication of how Matter works. But it’s good to know.

Beyond Matter, smart home developers are also getting a new set of APIs focused on ambient intelligence. The Alexa Ambient Home Dev Kit will have four different features that will help provide more context to the smart home. Amazon hopes that additional context will enable new routines or skills that allow Alexa to act without involving users. Amazon’s early efforts to create this ambient intelligence for the home include Hunches, where Alexa proactively suggests things like locking your door while you settle in for the night.

Initially, the Ambient Home SDK will contain four APIs. Three of them will work to implement elements we have already discussed above; multi-admin functionality for Matter, device naming and group naming between multiple device administrators. The fourth will share the state of a house with the developers if the user accepts it. As an end user, this means that when Alexa detects that I’m away from home and I’ve given Amazon permission to share that data, my robot vacuum might decide it’s a good time to clean the floors.

Right now, that seems pretty rudimentary (after all of Google’s Nest devices were able to share home state), but that kind of context is essential for a true smart home. And if Amazon can find a way to provide this in a secure and convenient way for developers and consumers alike, these APIs will be something to watch in the future.

Finally, Amazon will allow developers to advertise their skills on Echo Show devices and in the app. So far, developers will only be able to promote their skills on screens, but Rubenson expects such promotions to eventually come to voice-only devices. That’s exactly what I don’t want, Alexa trying to sell me more stuff after I ask her to set an alarm or tell me the weather. Amazon is also changing its revenue sharing system for developers, so those earning less than $1 million will only share 20% of their revenue, down from 30% previously. There are other changes on the revenue front associated with affiliate sales via an Alexa skill.

Amazon also updated some of its infamous stats, which provide plenty of round numbers but little context on how people are adopting and using Alexa. For example, there are now 300 million devices connected to Alexa compared to 100 million a year ago, Rubenson says. And one in five Alexa users use a third-party skill. Honestly, that last number seems pretty low, which is why Alexa keeps bugging me with suggestions for new features and skills I might like.

In true Amazon fashion, there are dozens of ads associated with Alexa Live, but these seemed the most relevant to the smart home. As we delve into more, you’ll hear more about them in Friday’s newsletter.

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