- Amazon introduced 31 features for its Alexa voice assistant, including a technology to make mobile apps more conversational with smartphone users. Alexa Conversations aims to help software developers create voice-powered apps, while Alexa for Apps will handle a broader range of in-app actions like search, per a blog post timed with Amazon's Alexa Live event.
- CNBC, Domino's, Matchbox and ViacomCBS are testing Quick Links for Alexa, which lets brands add a link to a mobile app, website or online ad to launch an Alexa skill and track conversion from ads. Amazon also is testing the Alexa Presentation Language (APL) to help developers mix speech, sound effects, music and other audio to create more immersive audio experiences. The Alexa Web API for Games lets developers create visual games on Alexa devices with screens, per its blog post.
- Amazon said it is adopting deep neural networks (DNNs) to improve the natural language understanding (NLU) of words and sentences by an expected 15%. Companies that make Alexa skills, as Amazon calls apps that work with the voice assistant, don't need to update their software to see the improvement in the DNN-based NLU technology.
Amazon's new features for Alexa aim to give software developers, including those who work for brands and ad agencies, more tools to improve voice-enabled interactions with consumers. Among the dozens of new features being tested are deeper integrations with mobile apps that will let marketers use Alexa's natural-language technology to support conversations with their customers.
That support is especially important as more consumers use voice apps, with the coronavirus pandemic driving a surge in activity. The percentage of people who speak to their voice-enabled devices at least once a day increased from 20% the first week of 2020 to 25% by the end of March, per an NPR and Edison Research study cited by Venture Beat. People also are expanding the range of services they seek from voice-enabled devices, requesting an average of about 11 different tasks a week from a voice assistant, compared with 9.4 tasks a year earlier.
The test of Quick Links for Alexa may herald expanded voice functionality for marketers by connecting Alexa skills with a mobile app, website or online ad. That opens the possibility for richer conversations between brands and consumers who initiate a voice-powered interaction after seeing an online ad with a link. It's conceivable that marketers can include a call-to-action (CTA) in their advertising that's supported by Alexa technology, helping to drive direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales through their e-commerce channels.
Amazon first demonstrated Alexa Conversations last year, and this week's announcement marks the continued development of the technology to help software developers add conversational features to apps. When the company introduced Alexa Conversations, it showed how smartphone users could use the voice assistant in apps from OpenTable, Uber and Atom Tickets. This year, Amazon highlighted iRobot, maker of the Roomba vacuum cleaner, and developer Philosophical Creations as adopters of Alexa Conversations.