Alexa Skills in the Smart Home

Alexa Skills are what allows Amazon’s digital voice assistant to shine.


Anyone who’s been on Amazon or visited a Best Buy knows that Alexa is everywhere nowadays from smart microwaves, to smart phones and speakers. Alexa is truly impressive in its own right, but what enables Alexa to truly proliferate in the present and future are its 3rd party skills.


There’s no doubt Amazon is bullish about winning the next platform war after losing the app platform market opportunity to iOS and Android. As the app market reached maturity and even oversaturation as we’re seeing with today’s user trends (link). Amazon is betting big on being the premier platform in the voice assistant space with Alexa.


Much like iOS and Android in the app market, Alexa’s apps called Skills is extending the adoption and growth of Alexa enabled devices well into every aspect of our lives in the home, car and in increasingly in the modern smart office space. Alexa’s Skills are available in a variety of different categories including news, weather, connected car, kids and many others. Currently all Alexa Skills can be downloaded for free, though some require a subscription if you want to unlock its full functionality. From Amazon’s Skills page it’s easy to pick and choose what Skills you want to enable on your device simply by asking Alexa to enable a particular skill, or you can click Enable on Amazon’s Skills page or the Alexa mobile app. This differs in comparison with Google Home (link) which has a far more limited number of skills, and they come with all units already pre-installed on the device. 


As of February of 2019, the total number of Alexa Skills available exceeded 85,000 worldwide, and this continues to increase at a staggering pace as brands and developers hope to gain mindshare with the burgeoning NLP (link) market. Other digital assistants are far behind in terms of app-like capabilities. Google Assistant has Actions which are most comparable to Skills, but towards the beginning of this year, there were only roughly 5000 Actions available. ( The other 2 closest voice assistants, Siri and Cortana from Microsoft don’t even have comparable app-like capabilities. 


Most third party Alexa Skills are activated with an invocation name within Alexa. Smart home skills however integrate directly with Alexa and don’t require the extra step of an invocation word to activate. Users can make activate device commands without saying “Alexa” at all. 


It’s become clear that despite its current limitations and concerns about its future use, the digital voice assistant appears to be here for the forseeable future. As NLP continues to play an increasing role in how we interact with our daily environments, it should be an exciting time to see how brands will utilize Skills to improve the smart home experience.


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