The bigger story, though, is how Amazon is accruing all that support in the first place. While Amazon and Google are generally pursuing the same strategy—lure customers in with affordable hardware, then convince other companies to join the ecosystem—Amazon has always been a step ahead in the tools it offers to device makers. This year, Amazon says it’s released more than 20 updates to its developer tools, including some major changes to how device makers make their products work with Alexa.
“By any measure, selection’s gone up dramatically,” says Daniel Rausch, Amazon’s vice president in charge of smart homes. “And that’s really driven by a lot of the innovation we’ve released for developers, and also how much simpler smart home [technology] has become to adopt for customers.”
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This month, Amazon released a new set of APIs that focus on “building block” concepts such as range controllers, mode controllers, and toggles, rather than specific types of third-party products. This allows Moen, for instance, to add better voice control to its smart showers, and Kenmore to add voice control for more wash cycle presets.
“Basically, if a device gets on the internet, Alexa can now control it,” Rausch says.
Meanwhile, Amazon wants to help companies build those devices in the first place with the Alexa Connect Kit. Instead of having to write device firmware from scratch and develop their own control software, device makers can use one of Amazon’s modules, which automatically connect to a suite of Amazon services and includes sample code for integrating with Alexa. (Amazon’s Alexa-enabled microwave, which uses the Connect Kit, is as much a reference design for this concept as it is an actual product.)
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“You can set up a ZigBee light bulb with Echo Plus in a single step. You screw it in, you say, ‘Discover my devices,’ and that is all it takes,” Rausch says.
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Amazon recently started rolling out a feature called Alexa Guard, which can listen for broken glass or alarms from a smoke or carbon monoxide detectors through an Amazon Echo, then send a notification to the user’s phone. Alexa Guard even ties into security systems from Ring (now part of Amazon) and ADT, which can in turn notify emergency services. Rausch says Amazon is “just starting to scratch the surface” on this kind of intelligent monitoring.
Rausch also points to Alexa’s recently launched “Hunches” feature, which can recognize users’ patterns over time and offer to take action when something’s amiss. Alexa might offer to lock the door at the end of the day, for instance, if that’s what a user typically does. Rausch says Alexa will learn new kinds of hunches over time.
“You can imagine all kinds of things it would be great to have a reminder about,” he says. “If an artificial intelligence could tell you when things aren’t just the way you would like them, that would be handy across many domains.”