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Everything new announced at Amazon Alexa Live 2021

Amazon Alexa is one of today’s go-to voice assistants. Available on hundreds of devices, from smart speakers to displays and thermostats, Alexa grows more popular every day, with over 100 million device owners and 900,000 registered developers producing Alexa-powered products. Speaking of the latter, Alexa Live 2021 has finally arrived. This year’s free virtual symposium is a great place to learn about all of the new developer tools and services that Alexa will be capable of in the near future. Here’s everything announced at this year’s event.

A host of new and updated developer tools

Perhaps the biggest emphasis of Amazon Alexa Live is the ways in which developers will be able to implement new and existing Alexa tools to make smart products more intuitive and customizable.

One advent is a tool called APL (Alexa Presentation Language) Widgets. For the first time, developers will have the ability to create visual companion widgets to accompany certain skills on devices like the Echo Show, Fire TV, Fire tablets, as well as other devices. These include things like animations, graphics, pictures, slideshows, and video files. Amazon further outlines this rollout with an example.

Say you’ve designed a trivia game for an Alexa device. When the user says “Alexa, open Quick Trivia,” an intro card for  Quick Trivia will show on your Echo Show screen. As you play the actual game, questions, answers, and relevant background images are displayed as you work your way through the challenges.

Alexa for Residential program is illustrated in a living room setup featuring FireTV, a smart thermostat, and smart lights being controlled by Alexa.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Another new tool is called Featured Skill Cards. A second visual enhancer, it will allow Echo Show and other Alexa-powered display owners to see additional info on their display and Alexa app after certain voice commands are given. In an outlined example, a Skill Card displayed a detailed breakdown of a user’s gift card balance when they asked what their remaining balance was.

Developers will also be pleased to learn about three big updates to Alexa’s Name Free Interaction (NFI) Toolkit. One of these is Featured Skills in Discovery Phrases. Now, when consumers say things like “Alexa, tell me a story,” or “Alexa, let’s play a game,” the developer’s skill can be suggested via both voice and screen.

The second update is Personalized Skill Suggestions, a multi-layered customer feedback model that will allow skill builders to interact in more personalized ways with device users.

The third update is entitled contextual experiences, an overall overhaul of NFI practices to allow for the discovery of new skills with simple phrases spoken to Alexa.

New revenue streams for developers

In addition to the aforementioned developer tools, an expanded suite of revenue-generating tools will be extrapolated during Amazon Alexa Live 2021.

One of these is called Paid Skills which will allow customers to pay a one-time fee when downloading a skill to access its premium content, reducing the need for future upsells. In-skill purchasing itself will also see an expansion into both India and Canada.

Alexa Shopping Actions will allow developers to sell skill-based products through One such developer, Starfinder, an Alexa-based science-fiction role-playing game, will now allow customers to buy their tabletop board game using Alexa Shopping Actions. Additionally, developers will now be able to earn a commission for referring products to customers within their skill parameters.

Alexa is getting more entertaining

A still from a Super Bowl commercial featuring Amazon Alexa.

There’s a bevy of new entertainment features coming to Alexa, all of which will be covered extensively during Amazon Alexa Live 2021.

Fans of Amazon Music will enjoy a new feature called Spotlight. Using the Amazon Music for Artists mobile app, artists can record their own audio commentary or voice liners similar to a radio liner, directly to their artist profile.

Tired of the sluggish response from certain music services on your Echo Dot. With the latest Interactive Media Skill Components, radio, podcast, and music providers will be able to process Alexa requests in a faster and more efficient way for listeners. Added to this, a Song Request Skill Component will allow radio DJs to take song requests and dedications using Alexa. iHeartRadio will be one of the first streamers to use this feature.

Enjoy party-gaming with your pals? With the new Shared Activities API, developers will be able to design Alexa-powered multiplayer games that can be shared and played amongst friends.

Alexa updates for on-the-go applications

Whole Foods shopping bags.
Marco Verch/Creative Commons

This next batch of updates focuses on how Alexa will improve a number of its on-the-go functions. For the foodies of the smart world, the all-new Food Skill API allows restaurants to build a better meal experience for their customers through Alexa. We imagine this will play out through simple voice commands. When a user says “Alexa, where’s the nearest pizza place?”, the assistant will respond with recommendations and options to order directly from listed restaurants, thanks to adept discovery skills. Expect only the highest-quality pizza suggestions from your Echo Dot going forward.

A new tool called Send to Phone will now Alexa users to ask their Echo product a question, and then head out the door, pop open their Alexa app, and continue the Alexa exchange (started on the Echo speaker) on their mobile device.

Furthermore, improvements to Event-Based Triggers and Proactive Suggestions will allow customers to enable skills that will remind them to do everything from locking the door when they leave the house to suggesting a workout playlist for a morning job. Whole Foods plans on using these expanded skills to launch a remodeled curbside experience in the latter part of 2021.

Smarter smart homes through Alexa

Echo Dot with clock.

Sick of running out of air filters for your HVAC when you need them the most? With extensions to Alexa replenishment skills, users will be able to re-order replacement parts from a host of new carriers. Carrier and Resideo, two thermostat manufacturers, will now be able to replenish your air filters automatically. Bissel will be doing the same for robotic vacuum filters.

With Alexa Custom Assistant Momentum, companies will now be able to customize their own voice assistant experience using Alexa tech. This means wake words, voices, personalities, and capabilities that are totally unique to the developer but built on Alexa’s framework. Qualcomm, Garmin, and a host of others will be the first brands to take advantage of Alexa Custom Assistant (ACA).

Verizon smart display powered by Alexa

FCC filing image of Verizon Smart Display.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Verizon will also be taking advantage of the ACA suite with the rollout of the company’s very first smart display. The Verizon Smart Display will allow Verizon customers to set up new service, oversee their Verizon account, and do everything else we can expect from a smart display. FCC filings for this device indicate the tablet will have an 8-inch display, front-facing camera, and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities.

As we’ve outlined extensively before, Matter will be joining forces with major tech companies to make for a faster and more stabilized smart home experience. Nearly every Echo device is receiving the Matter upgrade, making it easier for customers to set up and use their Echo speakers.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated how artist could upload new and existing records to their artist profile. They can’t.

Michael Bizzaco
Michael Bizzaco has been writing about and working with consumer tech for well over a decade, writing about everything from…
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