Developers of Alexa skills now have a way to make money off their offerings.
Alexa skills can now include money-making features, according to The Verge. If you use Alexa skills, you have probably noticed they’re all free. This is a refreshing change of pace from other services, like app stores on phones that can offer apps for large amounts of money. With Alexa’s available skills, you never have to worry about whether a skill you’ve found is going to end up costing you.
But now the developers of these skills do have some small ways to make money. The Verge notes that now skills can offer one in-skill purchase. This means they can have extra content or special features available for a cost. This can be a one-time fee or a subscription that continues. Compared to many apps, having one in-skill purchase is still a nice change of pace, since so many apps lock feature after feature behind a pay wall.
Developers can also now allow users of their skills to buy items. With Alexa, users could already use their voices to buy products from Amazon. But now they’ll be able to ask to buy things within other skills. This new feature will make use of Amazon Pay, letting developers offer a way to order through the skill. The Verge mentions that TGI Fridays and 1-800-Flowers are already making use of this new feature. With these skills, you can now directly place orders for the companies’ products.
While the skills themselves are still free (and there seem to be no plans to change this in the near future), adding a way for developers to make money through in-skill purchases and the use of Amazon Pay could end up being a big change. It could make Alexa skills seem more appealing to other developers who have yet to bring their ideas to the Alexa skill format. It may also make ordering items from companies other than Amazon much easier. Keep watch on Alexa’s skills to see which ones begin making use of these new capabilities.
Amazon has now given Echo users a new way to make Alexa even more personalized. Skill Blueprints, added this past week, allow Alexa users to program their own customized skills for personal use.
Amazon announced the new ability for Alexa on their Alexa blog last week. Skill Blueprints is a feature that makes it easy to further personalize an Alexa device by creating your own trigger phrases and setting Alexa’s response, building your own trivia game, making personalized stories, and more.
On the Alexa Blueprints website, the feature is explained and the many different Skill templates are described. After logging in to the Amazon account that’s connected to your Alexa device, you can choose from a template and customize your personal skill. These skills are only available on your Alexa devices and aren’t publicly published. You can also have as many Skill Blueprints as you want.
Alexa is known for having some silly quips and fun easter eggs when she’s asked the right phrase. Now you can make your own fun responses with the Q & A Blueprint. You can set up a phrase like “Who’s the best basketball player?” and program Alexa to respond however you’d like. You can also have fun with other Blueprints like the one that “roasts” your guests with custom insults. There’s Family Jokes, which lets you put in your own jokes, as well as Compliments, Trivia, Inspirations (with your favorite quotes), and much more.
Plus you can use these Blueprints to make your smart home easier to navigate. You can use the Pet Sitter Blueprint to enter all the information someone might need to care for your pet (like where to find the food, how often to feed your pet, who to call in an emergency, etc.). And Houseguest has you enter information about staying in your home (and the nearby area) so that if someone is house sitting or visiting, they don’t have to keep texting you with questions about where to find extra paper towels or how to turn on the dishwasher.
There are many other Blueprints available, as well. In fact, there are currently 21 different Blueprints to choose from. Whenever you’ve created a Blueprint, you can go back to it and edit it whenever you want. Amazon’s blog says that your newly-created skills show up on your Alexa devices “instantly,” though it’s important to note that it takes a moment or two for the skills to actually be created. (The Blueprints website asks you to wait as the skill is actually finalized and ready to use—this seems to typically take less than a minute.)
Alexa Skill Blueprints are now available for use in the US. For more information, take a look at the Alexa Blueprints website.
Amazon has now announced that they’re further expanding Alexa’s ability to push notifications to devices. If you have an Alexa device, like an Echo, you may have noticed earlier in the year that Alexa had gained the ability to notify you about your Amazon deliveries. The ring of light would begin to pulse, indicating a notification was waiting. I was confused and a bit worried the first time it happened to me, since I’d missed the news announcement about it; I thought my Echo Dot might be malfunctioning, considering the weird pulsing light. Since then I’ve found this notification system pretty handy. Your Echo can also flash to let you know when you’ve received a message or call (remember, you can make calls and send messages between Alexa-enabled devices).
Now Alexa’s notifications are getting even better. Alexa devices will now be able to display the flashing ring of light and make a sound when there’s an alert from an enabled skill. The skills that currently work with the new notification feature are few, though—right now it only works with a very small amount, and Amazon only names three in their announcement: The Washington Post, AccuWeather, and Life360. Amazon’s announcement mentions more will be coming soon, and TechCrunch names Just Eat and Astrobot as two other skills that were involved in testing. Oh, and don’t worry: if you don’t want these push notifications, you don’t have to have them. You’ll need to opt-in to get them, and you can disable them in the Alexa app’s settings (Amazon describes how to do this on their website).
It’s hard to tell how soon Amazon means when they say “coming soon,” but hopefully these skills will enable push notifications sooner rather than later. People have been asking for more push notifications for some time now, myself included. Many users have asked to be able to have Alexa interact more and easily offer things like news alerts and calendar items. With The Washington Post, at least, these news alerts will be possible, but if you’re not necessarily a fan of that news provider, you’ll still have to wait to get push notifications about news from other outlets on Alexa. I know I’ll be keeping watch to see when new skills are able to send chiming notifications to my Echo Dot.