Talking Alexa: Looking Beyond 10,000 Skills

Ty Rollin  /  Thought Leadership  / March 7, 2017

Amazon recently announced that Alexa learned her 10,000th skill. For the record, it’s a voice-friendly version of Beat the Intro, a “name that tune” type game already available on the App Store and Google Play.

This is surely a milestone in its own right. But when you look at the timeline behind it, Alexa’s growth is all the more impressive. In January 2016, roughly seven months after Amazon opened up the Alexa Skills Kit to developers, there were a mere 130 skills available. Back in November, Alexa crossed the 5,000 skill mark. By January 2017, she was up to 7,000 skills, which means that it only took about a month for her to close the gap to 10,000.

This growth is increasingly fueled by major brands, including Starbucks, Domino’s, Uber, and Purina, launching Alexa skills; however, not everyone is convinced of her potential. As the coverage surrounding Amazon’s announcement reveals, some are questioning how many of the now 10,000 skills are actually useful. Others have suggested that some of these skills are experiments from developers seeking a free hoodie. Even others have cited a recent stat from a VoiceLab report indicating that just 3 percent of Alexa skills see return users after their first week on the market. (This stat applies to Google Assistant as well.)

Yet if you dig a little deeper in the VoiceLab report, you see that it predicts 24.5 million voice devices will be shipped in 2017. As a point of comparison, a mere 6.5 million devices were distributed to users in 2016, suggesting that demand for voice-powered experiences is heavily increasingly. Thus it’s hardly surprising that the report describes key use cases that consumers have identified for their voice-powered assistants, including streaming of music and books, home automation, games and entertainment, and news and podcasts. Every skill out there might not be the most useful - I’m looking at you, Egg Facts - but many are quickly finding their place.

I may be a self-proclaimed voice enthusiast, but I believe that Alexa surpassing the 10,000 skill mark is a strong indication that she’s evolving into the mainstream. She’s following in the footsteps of the smartphone and the countless other innovations that have taken hold before her. While I’ll be the first to say that Alexa doesn’t have the penetration of the iPhone (for now), I'm not alone in suggesting her growth resembles that of the App Store - in terms of its speed, developer interest, and even in the challenges it faced.

What’s more, brands have moved beyond trying to figure out what features users want in a voice skill. Instead, they are looking to address bigger questions with answers that will position Alexa for maturity in the enterprise. How can they monetize their efforts? What impact can Alexa have on their business models? What operational changes should they implement? And maybe most importantly, how can they measure success?

Perhaps Dennis Maloney, Chief Digital Officer at Domino’s and early Alexa adopter puts it best in saying that it’s often “two steps forward, one step back” as his company continues to innovate in this uncharted territory. But if the accelerating pace of Alexa skills development is any indication, I have a feeling that Domino’s won’t be the only brand taking huge steps ahead pretty quickly.

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