The latest Amazon addition is the ability to track packages on the Amazon Echo and other devices that include Alexa. Users can just say “Alexa, where’s my stuff?” to figure out when their next package will arrive.
Alexa will let you know the expected arrival date, along with info like who ordered the package and when. Users can already reorder Prime-eligible items (like coffee filters or laundry detergent) through Alexa, meaning the AI assistant can replace the need to check the Amazon site.
But Amazon is still trailing behind third-party developers in the growing number of Alexa skills. In recent weeks, companies like Kayak and 1-800-Flowers have added support for the AI assistant, adding travel booking and flower purchases to smart-home control and Yelp help.
An Alexa integration is becoming the new app, with companies creating simple voice-activated features to be available where their customers will be in the future, if not the present. Just like companies raced to build apps for the iPhone in 2008, companies are finding any way they can to add voice-activated features to their products today.
But the real power may come from voice-first services. Some of the best early apps weren’t website ports or existing products. Angry Birds succeeded because of great touchscreens on smartphones. Instagram worked because the iPhone had a camera, data connection and fast enough processor to apply the filters.
The next steps for conversational voice control may come from current unknowns, too. While tacking on voice-activated features to existing products will be helpful as Alexa and her ilk grow up, the true breakthroughs will come when inventive people build first for Alexa.
However, with Amazon opening up the Alexa Skills Kit less than a year ago, developers are likely just getting started on the new tech. And with virtual reality also on the rise, create developers may be more drawn to creating fully virtual worlds instead of voice commands. But with Alexa now heading to devices outside the Amazon ecosystem, picking up an AI assistant may be a lot cheaper than a VR headset.