With Custom Skills, Alexa Inches Closer to Being One of the Family

Amazon on Thursday introduced Alexa Skill Blueprints, adding personalization capabilities to its smart speaker devices. The new tool provides pre-crafted templates for users to create customized experiences. Among the possibilities are answers to specific questions, or skills for particular users, such as houseguests.

With Alexa Skill Blueprints, users can build into their devices experiences that are personalized for themselves, their friends and their families. The experiences they create will appear only on the devices registered to their Amazon account.

The content can range from jokes and quips to important information for family members and caregivers. It also can be geared toward a student’s specific educational needs, for example.

“You don’t need experience-building skills or coding to get started,”
said Steve Rabuchin, vice president for Amazon Alexa.

“My family created our own jokes skill in a matter of minutes, and
it’s been a blast to interact with Alexa in a totally new and personal
way,” he added.

Alexa Skill Blueprints is now available for customers in the United States.

Skills, Learning and Games

Because they are customizable, Alexa Skill Blueprints can be used in a variety of ways — but there are limits, as the tool relies on templates and filling in the blanks.

At launch, Amazon unveiled templates in several key categories,
including At Home, Fun & Games, Storyteller, and Learning & Knowledge.

At Home includes options to provide quick access to information for houseguests, babysitters and pet sitters. Learning & Knowledge offers Alexa’s services as quizmaster in customized quizzes, keeper of facts, or
even flash card study companion.

One entertainment template lets users enlist Alexa as a storyteller. Amazon has included options for adventure, fairy tale, sci-fi and fable-based stories.

Fun & games templates include family jokes, multiple trivia options, compliments, and first letter. These allow the creation of highly customizable games for the whole family.

“Amazon’s announcement will spark the fascination of all the ‘makers’
in our midst,” said Josh Crandall, principal analyst at Netpop Research.

“Imagine how cool somebody will look when they can show off the
unique, imaginative skills that they programmed into their audio ‘friend,’ Alexa,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“It doesn’t really matter how many people actually code skills. All it
will take to make this a PR win is a couple of YouTube videos of
creative and funny skills that a few people add to their speakers,”
Crandall added.

App Builder

Amazon has touted Skill Blueprints as a way for people to build their skills, but it also could be an easy way for Amazon to add value to Alexa by having users create their own content.

“Amazon Alexa Blueprints are not as much a new way of developing
skills as they are easy-to-access training modules for building
skills,” said Paul Teich, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

“I see Alexa Blueprints as Amazon’s way of trying to boost the number
and quality of third-party apps available for its Alexa platform, and
Blueprints should help Amazon increase the breadth and quality of
third-party Alexa apps,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“These companies hit each other over the head with more apps, so this
is an easy way to add it — even if it isn’t all that useful,” said
Roger Entner, principal analyst at Recon Analytics.

User-Generated Value Add

This isn’t the first time a tech company has tried to turn user-generated content into a value add.

“It reminds me of the old AutoContent Wizard in PowerPoint 2003 —
which no one used,” said Roger Kay, principal analyst at Endpoint
Technologies Associates

“The idea is to expand the pool of users capable of generating new
apps — or “skills,” as Amazon calls them — and building Alexa’s skills
library is a top strategic priority for Amazon,” he told TechNewsWorld.

However, this strategy may not impact the hardware platform, which is
why other companies are going another route, added Tirias’ Teich.

“Google is taking a different approach by selling its AIY kits through Maker outlets and now Target,” explained Teich.

“That will help proliferate hardware products that use Google Home
APIs,” he said, “as Target is already stocking both the Google Voice Kit AIY and Google Vision Kit AIY.”

Too Much Information

One concern with technology such as Skill Blueprints is that personal information could be put at greater risk, as people might share too much with Alexa or other virtual assistants.

“The downside to this is that people who want to do illicit things
could now have access, writing skills for Alexa or accessing what has
been provided to the devices,” warned Recon Analytics’ Entner.

“Everything can be hacked, and this opens the door,” he told TechNewsWorld. “If the content is easy enough for your dog sitter to access, then someone could hack into it. It is a big door that is
being opened to your private information.”

Peter Suciu has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2012. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile phones, displays, streaming media, pay TV and autonomous vehicles. He has written and edited for numerous publications and websites, including Newsweek, Wired and
Email Peter.

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