Watch out Siri: Amazon turns page on future of voice assistants with Alexa

E-commerce firm releases voice control system into the wild, taking a very different approach to Apple, Microsoft and Google

Have you ever wished you could turn the page on your Kindle without having to touch it? Soon you may be able to by simply speaking to it.

Amazon has released its voice-controlled personal assistant, Alexa, from its speaker cage and is encouraging everyone from corporations to hobbyists to build it into their next projects.

Alexa – a rival to Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana or Google Now – was previously only available in Amazon’s voice command device Echo, but its wider availability could see it in Amazon’s Kindles, tablets and other products.

The retailer has unveiled an Alexa software development kit (SDK), some application programming interfaces (API) and a $100m fund for companies working on voice control technology. Amazon hopes that it can entice developers to use Alexa within their apps.

Amazon revealed that it has already invested an undisclosed sum into seven companies, which between them are making a cooking app, a fitness gadget, a connected toy, a home monitoring system, a garage door controller and a voice-controlled car assistant, all powered by Alexa.

But it is hoping to not only attract companies and commercial developers but hackers and hobbyists too.

Greg Hart vice president for Echo and Alexa voice services at Amazon said: “We’re making the Alexa Skills Kit available to any developer, maker, or general hobbyist that wants to invent on behalf of customers, creating new skills and capabilities.”

A number of high-profile companies have lined up to use the system, including AOL Intuit, StubHub and Glympse. For Amazon, the more people use the Alexa system, the better it will get and the more capabilities it will gain.

Spreading far and wide

Amazon’s own products will benefit as more third-party developers come on board. The Echo speaker will gain more links with more apps and services, which Amazon is using to try and slide its way into the internet of things (IoT) connected home.

Amazon’s approach is very different to most of the other US technology companies attempting to shoehorn their voice control systems into the brave new world of IoT. Apple, for instance, allows users to control its HomeKit connected devices using Siri, but only through approved uses and via its iPhone or iPad.

Google Now is slightly more open, available on more devices, but similarly cannot be used by developers directly, and while Microsoft’s Cortana will be available on the iPhone and Android devices, as well as the company’s Windows phones and computers, it is only in its infancy.

For Amazon, Alexa’s future lies IoT products such as connected alarm clocks, smart lights and sprinkler systems, but it is likely to be baked into Amazon’s tablets, smartphones and e-readers, just like Siri.

Talking to your Kindle might be the next big thing.

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Samuel Gibbs

The GuardianTramp

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