Amazon allows its developers to use voice recognition to personalize apps

Amazon says it will allow Alexa skill developers to alert customers using notifications starting today, and soon, it will allow them to recognize users’ individual voices as part of their skill-building process. These changes, along with other developer enhancements, are being announced this morning at Amazon’s re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, where the company delved into the science behind its Alexa voice platform in a keynote address.

Until today, that recognition feature only worked for Amazon-built services like shopping lists, flash briefing news updates, and Amazon Music, among other built-in skills. Starting some time in early 2018, however, developers will be able to tap into those voice-based profiles to make apps more personalized to various members of a household. This yet again puts Amazon ahead of rival Google in the smart home and digital assistant fields. Google launched multi-user support using voice recognition back in April, but has yet to announce third-party app integration for the feature.

This traction has allowed Amazon to generate developer interest, despite the lack of a monetization model for their voice apps until more recently, with the introduction of paid subscriptions for Alexa skills. Despite the lag in allowing developers to profit from their work, Amazon says there are now over 25,000 third-party skills for Alexa, and the number of active customers is up by more than five times.

Today, the company is giving skill developers a more direct way to engage their customers, instead of relying only on voice commands. It’s expanding support for notifications, the company announced – meaning more developers will now be able to alert their app’s end users about updates and new content using lights and audio cues.

The notifications, which are opt-in only on the user end, combine an audio cue — typically some type of chime and spoken alert courtesy of Alexa — with a blueish green light change on the Echo speaker ring to signify an app notification. Users can then hear the notification with either a physical tap on the speaker or an audio command like, “Alexa, what did I miss?,” according to TechCrunch. Existing Alexa skills in the news, weather, and food delivery categories can make use of the feature, and Amazon says more apps will start incorporating notifications going forward.

In early 2018, Amazon says this technology will make its way to third-party developers as well, allowing them to build personalized experiences into their skills.

The keynote address additionally highlighted other technologies for voice app developers, like the improvements to the Skill Builder tool, the Alexa Skills Kit Command Line Interface, Speech Synthesis Markup and Speechcons, natural language understanding, and more.

Amazon also announced the winner of its inaugural Alexa Prize, a university competition it held to advance the field of conversational A.I.

The winning team was Sounding Board, from the University of Washington, who had built a socialbot that engages users in thoughtful discussions. Sounding Board took home $500,000 for the first-place prize, followed by runner-up Alquist from Czech Technical University in Prague, and third-place winner, What’s Up Bot from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Amazon says the 2018 Alexa Prize competition will open to applications on December 4, 2017 and close on January 8, 2018.

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