It just got a lot easier to for users add a new skill to Alexa, the voice-activated brain that powers Amazon’s Echo and other devices.
Amazon said this morning that users can now enable third-party skills on Alexa with a voice command such as, “Alexa, enable FitBit.” Before they could only find and enable skills through an app. Amazon also made it easier to search for skills on the app by adding categories like smart home and lifestyle.
Skills are the equivalent of apps, allowing developers to add new voice-activated capabilities to the Echo and other devices that use Alexa. Amazon said more than 1,400 skills are now available for Alexa, and that number is growing fast. Just a few weeks ago, Alexa hit 1,000 skills.
This month marks one year since Amazon opened up Alexa to developers, and Amazon said tens of thousands of them are now working on skills and projects for Alexa. Developers who want to add to Alexa’s abilities can write code that works with Alexa in the cloud, letting the smart assistant do the heavy lifting of understanding and deciphering spoken commands.
When Amazon announced Alexa’s skills, it also started a $100 million fund to invest in companies that will push the boundaries of voice-based interaction. So far, Amazon said, this fund has invested in 16 startups, mostly focused on smart home and wearable products. In the next year, the fund’s scope will expand to include areas like robotics, developer tools, healthcare and accessibility.
Apple, Microsoft and Google previously developed voice-activated assistants but only for mobile devices. Echo was released approximately two years ago, and the market for voice activated speakers that are always on is growing.