Amazon’s Alexa assistant can’t acquiesce to any request, but that’s not to suggest it isn’t capable. It’s got tracks from Spotify on tap, plus Philips Hue controls, seven-day weather forecasts, and your local supermarket’s Saturday hours. If there’s one area Alexa’s been lacking, though, it’s video — controlling your TV with Alexa isn’t exactly easy. But that’s changing with the introduction of Amazon’s new Video Skill API, which makes it simpler for content creators to add stop, start, and other playback controls to Alexa’s ever-growing skill set.
When a software developer invokes the Video Skill API, it gets a wealth of playback controls at its disposal. These includes basic commands like play, pause, and volume adjustment, but also a search tool that sifts through titles, actors, and genres. The Video Skill API’s features don’t stop there — it also keeps track of the services you’ve enabled, doing away with the need to specify a content provider or device when you want to watch something. And unlike most other Alexa apps, skills that tap into the Video Skill API don’t require an invocation phrase — if you have at least one enabled, you can say commands like, “Alexa, play John Wick,” and it’ll queue up on the nearest TV.
Amazon is launching a promotion to spur development of Video Skill-enabled apps — app developers who publish skills by the end of this month get a free Echo Dot speaker — but the Video Skill API is launching with few early adopters. Dish Network, which announced an Alexa skill that lets the cable company’s subscribers change channels, search for shows and pause, and fast-forward, and rewind, will be among the first to take advantage. YouView and NetGem in the U.K. will follow suit later this month.
The Video Skill API’s rollout couldn’t have been timed better. In March, the Seattle-based retailer teamed up with TV maker Element to launch the first Alexa-enabled smart television. And on June 28, it will begin shipping the Echo Show, an Alexa-powered speaker with a touchscreen display, camera, and high-quality stereo speakers.
But Amazon’s playing catch-up, too. Google’s eponymous Google Home speaker works in tandem with Google Cast-enabled devices to beam music, YouTube videos, and Netflix shows around your house. And Apple’s upcoming HomePod, a Siri-enabled speaker with high-quality audio, sports AirPlay 2, Apple’s new-and-improved wireless streaming standard supporting multi-room audio, streaming video, and more.
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