- Amazon said skills for its Alexa digital assistant can handle a wider group of tasks, like making printouts, booking reservations and hailing rides, by offloading those tasks to other skills. The connections feature is now generally available in the Alexa Skills Kit in all regions where Alexa is available, per a blog post.
- Publisher Meredith was one of the first companies to connect a skill to voice-powered apps from other companies. The publisher added the HP skill to its Allrecipes skill, which now lets customers print out recipes they find from voice-powered searches on Alexa.
- Alexa skills that offload tasks through skill connections are called "requesters," while skills that perform tasks for other skills are called "providers," Alexa product manager Leo Ohannesian said in the blog post. The provider catalog currently includes Uber for ride-hailing, OpenTable for restaurant reservations and HP, Epson and Canon for printing.
Amazon's general release of connections, which comes after initial tests started in October, aims to make its Alexa digital assistant more versatile for consumers who have been limited to using voice commands to handle separate tasks, making the experience more arduous. Now, marketers can offer services like rides from Uber or dinner reservations from OpenTable within their own skills, making the handoff more seamless for Alexa users. While Amazon's menu of connected skills is currently limited to printing, ride-hailing and restaurant booking, that's likely to change as the company expands its catalog of skill providers.
Amazon's connections announcement follows other developments for Alexa. The company last month previewed a suite of new tools that allow developers to build kid skills with in-skill purchasing (ISP) for the U.S. Alexa Skills Store. Amazon is also seeking to expand its Alexa assistant beyond the home with the development of wearable earbuds. The earbuds are a significant priority for Amazon's Lab126 hardware division, which also is working on an Alexa-powered home robot for consumers codenamed Vesta.
The skills connections feature comes as developers of rival voice platforms, such as Apple, Google and Samsung, build out the functionality of their digital assistants. Apple last month announced plans to hire 2,000 more employees for a new Seattle campus, with a significant number of those jobs focused on improving its Siri digital assistant and artificial intelligence (AI), Digital Trends reported.
Google is seeking to monetize its Assistant app for Android with features that include showing search ads, the first time that the search giant has added ads to its virtual assistant experience. Apple also equipped Siri to work with more radio stations. Samsung this week opened its version of an app store for Bixby, its virtual assistant that comes preinstalled on its mobile devices, to urge more companies to develop a wider variety of its voice-powered apps are called.