Alexa in-skill purchasing rolls out to the UK and beyond Alexa… take my money!

MOM AND POP RETAILER Amazon has announced an international rollout for in-skill purchasing, allowing skill owners to make money through Alexa devices.

After being released in the US last year, the service is now available in UK, Germany and Japan, with Canada, Mexico, Spain, India, New Zealand and Australia next to come online in the coming weeks and months.

Let’s not mince words here. What we’re actually talking about is in-app purchasing, but for Alexa apps instead of mobile apps. That’s fine, if it’s well regulated, but it does mean that there’s the potential for you to build up a tasty selection of recurring subscriptions if you don’t keep your Alexa app in check.

Quoth The Big A: “Soon, developers from around the world will be able to build premium skill experiences with localized content that is relevant for customers across different countries, languages, and currencies.

“Additionally, developers who monetize their skills across numerous skill stores will be able to tap into a larger customer base, generating revenue to kick off their global voice business.”

This is another example of Amazon’s attempts to democratise Alexa, whilst simultaneously keeping both hands on the tiller. We’ve already seen it introduce kits to make it easier to create your own skills without coding knowledge, aimed both at home and office environments, via the Alexa Development Console.

As well as in-app purchasing, you can also set up your skill to accept Amazon Pay for single purchases, offering payment processing for major credit cards without having to faff about with setting up your own e-commerce platform.

Amazon is very pleased with the results so far, citing one app with 34 per cent conversion rate from free to paid versions, whilst another reports a whopping 90 per cent conversion after users finish a free trial.

EXPANDING GLOBALLY, AMAZON’S ALEXA STRIVES TO KEEP LOCAL MINDSET

Getting Amazon.com Inc.’s Alexa to work across the globe and in many languages requires that the company’s engineers keep the “local experience” in mind, according to Toni Reid, Amazon’s vice president for Alexa Experience and Echo.

The voice assistant has more than 100 million customers world-wide, she said Monday at The Wall Street Journal’s Future of Everything Festival.

Developers have to understand differences in the way people speak. English in Australia is different from English in India, the U.S. or the U.K. They also have to keep users’ accents in mind so that Alexa doesn’t misinterpret or misunderstand commands. Mistakes mean that sometimes Amazon has employees listen to select Alexa recordings to improve its software. Recently, the tech giant came under fire after reports surfaced that employees were listening to customers’ Alexas.

Full article: https://www.wsj.com/articles/expanding-globally-amazons-alexa-strives-to-keep-local-mindset-11558393570

Voice Purchasing Rose in 2018 Among US Smart Speaker Owners, Voice-Assisted Product Search is Even Bigger

The U.S. Smart Speaker Consumer Adoption Report for 2019 revealed that 15% of U.S. smart speaker owners say they were making purchases by voice on a monthly basis at the end of 2018. That is up from 13.6% that were using voice for retail purchases at the beginning of the year. Keep in mind that this reflects a 10.5% rise in the relative use of smart speaker-based voice purchasing on top of a 40% rise in year-over-year device ownership. This voice shopping cohort reflects about 4% of all U.S. adults.

Jeff McMahon, CEO of Voicify, commented in this week’s Voicebot Podcast (N.B. segment starts at 39:49) that the rapid rise of voice purchasing in 2018 may be related to the six-fold increase in smart display ownership during 2018.

There is at least a correlation and future evidence may show there is causation as well…that [the rise in voice purchasing] is highly correlated with the new screen-based devices…I do think multimodal devices and their continued proliferation will also be a contributor to voice commerce.

Smart speaker owner behavioral data suggests McMahon’s prediction is correct. Smart display owners were 133% more likely to make voice purchases on a monthly basis in 2018 and 76% more likely to be conducting product searches using the devices.

PRODUCT SEARCH ON SMART SPEAKERS IS EVEN HIGHER

While about 15% of smart speakers owners say they are making voice purchases regularly, 27.8% say they are using the devices monthly for product search. Voicebot’s current assessment is that voice-assisted product search is having an even bigger impact today than voice-triggered purchasing. Much of the voice purchasing today is repurchase using the convenience of a smart speaker’s presence in the kitchen. Voice-assisted product search is about discovering new products and considering their merit. This is the front end of the buying process that may culminate in a purchase and a product or service acquiring a new customer.

Data published this week from CouponFollow also identifies the rise of this new voice shopping behavior. That report found 45% of millennials today have used voice assistants during the shopping process for product discovery and to find product reviews. This is a broader assessment than Voicebot’s smart speaker user data because it includes the use of voice shopping on other devices such as smartphones. However, both data points emphasize that voice assistants are already being used in the shopping process. You can learn more about voice shopping consumer behavior by downloading the 2019 smart speaker report below.

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Adobe Says 91% of Business Decision Makers Investing in Voice Today and Voice Commerce is the Top Objective of 45%

  • An Adobe survey says 91% of “business decision makers” are making significant investments in voice technologies
  • 88% responded that they intend to support multiple voice assistants such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple Siri
  • Adobe says 22% of businesses surveyed have launched a voice app and 44% plan to do so in 2019
  • The top three objectives for voice initiatives are all voice commerce related including purchases and order tracking

Adobe is talking about a new survey it conducted with 401 “business decision makers” and says that 91% claim they are already making “significant investments in voice” today while 94% say they will increase their investment over the next year. And, these investments will not go to support a single assistant ecosystem. Adobe found that 88% of those surveyed said they planned to support multiple voice assistants such as Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri.

Twenty-two percent of those surveyed said they had already launched a voice app and 44% expect to do so in 2019. That would suggest voice apps for businesses may double in 2019 and as many as two-thirds will have a voice app of some kind published.

This survey sample may be a bit skewed toward early adopters as CMO.com reports that “59% of [participants] are in leadership roles and 41% of whom are practitioners, across different functional areas and industries.” Multi-industry practitioners in the Adobe world will generally translate into agencies, consultants, and other service providers which have a higher likelihood of working with clients on new technologies. However, the trend data seems about right as many large companies are looking closely at voice technologies today and some of this may be customer service oriented.

VOICE COMMERCE IS THE TOP OBJECTIVE

The report says that voice commerce was the top objective cited by survey participants at 45% wanting to enable purchases followed closely by order tracking also at 45% and the ability to make repeat purchases 44%. That means the top three objectives for these businesses were all commerce related.

About two-thirds or the survey takers believe that their voice presence will enable lead conversion while 29% have enabled some sort of voice purchasing through their earlier voice app launch. This again, seems a bit high, as there are few Alexa skills and Google Actions that explicitly enable voice ordering, but there is clearly strong interest. Other expected benefits beyond revenue generation are improved user experience (71%), increased consumer engagement (65%), and higher customer loyalty (64%). Heidi Besik, group product marketing manager at Adobe, told CMO.com that voice commerce may be conducted differently than what we are accustomed to on the web and mobile.

“Many have doubted the potential of voice-based shopping because they expected it to drive activity in the same way that websites do. A similar misconception happened when mobile shopping began to take off. Similar to mobile, voice has the ability to support the overall shopping experience. It certainly has the potential to drive new purchases, and brands are focusing on that. But even more important is how services like order tracking, quick refills, and product research can create more loyal shoppers who may close the deal elsewhere.”

This is consistent with Voicebot’s primary research around consumer behaviors and sentiment. The 2019 Smart Speaker Consumer Adoption Report found that monthly product search by voice (27.8%) was about two times more common than actual voice purchases (15.0%).

Voicebot’s Voice Shopping Consumer Adoption Report of 2018 also went into great detail on both consumer voice shopping habits as well as differentiating between purchase impact and the actual order placement. Voice has many ways to impact the revenue cycle for consumer brands and it looks like the business decision makers cited by Adobe see that potential.

 

 

Microsoft releases Voice Assistant study, 19% of respondents using Cortana

Microsoft has published this week an interesting white paper about the usage of digital assistants in 2019 (via Techcrunch). It’s still early days for Alexa, Siri, the Google Assistant and Microsoft’s own Cortana, but these digital assistants have already started to expand to various connected appliances such as home speakers, headphones, TVs, or thermostats. According to Microsoft’s new study, 69% of respondents have already used a digital assistant, though it’s worth noting that 41% of users reported concerns around trust, privacy and passive listening.

Microsoft’s data is based on 2,000 responses from a Microsoft Market Intelligence survey done between March and June 2018, as well as a more recent online survey of 5,000 US consumers done in February 2019. This fresh data reveals that Apple’s Siri and the Google Assistant are the most used assistants in the US, with each of them having a 36% usage share in the country. Amazon Alexa is third with 25%, and Microsoft’s Cortana is in fourth position with just 19%.

The popularity of Siri and Google is likely due to the sheer volume of mobile phones (approximately 250M in US2) when compared with smart speakers (approximately 50M+ in US3) . Both Siri and Google are more aligned with mobile phones while Alexa is more closely aligned with smart speakers (though Siri and Google are starting to infiltrate smart speakers, while Alexa can also be used on mobile phones).

The report also dives into how people are using digital assistants today, going beyond the home management use cases that are mainly associated with home speakers. “On average, respondents selected 5 types of ‘productivity’ tasks. They’re playing music. Looking for directions. Getting the news and weather. The current top use (68% of respondents) was ‘Searching for 
a quick fact’,” the company explained in the report.

With a majority of survey respondents seeing voice assistance becoming the norm in the near future, Microsoft has now accepted that Cortana can no longer compete head on with Alexa and the other assistants. Instead, Microsoft has partnered with Amazon and Google to make Cortana a voice skill for Alexa, as well as a voice action for Google Assistant.

For Microsoft, Cortana still has great value as “the skill for anyone who’s a Microsoft 365 subscriber,” providing access to calendars, emails and files from an Office 365 account. We haven’t seen any Cortana-powered appliances so far except for the Harman Kardon Invoke speaker, the Glas smart thermostat and Microsoft’s own Surface headphones, but the Redmond giant does see Cortana becoming more ubiquitous in the future thanks to partnerships with other companies, including car manufacturers. “These new integrations as a skill will only extend Cortana’s ability to transform our productivity and make it easier to achieve work-life harmony wherever life happens,” the company explained.

¡Hola Alexa! Amazon’s assistant will speak Spanish in the US later this year Eventually, Alexa will have full Spanish language support.

If you speak Spanish or want to learn, Amazon’s Alexa will soon be able to help.

Alexa will be able to speak Spanish in the US later this year, Amazon said in a blog post on Monday. The company launched a new voice model so developers can build skills for Spanish-speaking users in the US using the Alexa Skills Kit.

In addition to the voice model, Amazon plans to have full Spanish language support for Alexa devices at some point in 2019. Amazon’s digital assistant was already available in Spanish in Mexico and Spain.

Developers in the US can request early access through the invite-only Alexa Voice Service developer preview, according to Amazon.

“Along with the Echo family of devices, later this year Bose, Facebook, and Sony will bring Alexa Built-in devices and Philips, TP Link, and Honeywell Home will bring Works with Alexa devices that support Spanish in the US,” Amazon said in the post.

Smart speakers like Amazon’s Echo are part of a growing number of devices helping consumers fashion smart home living.

Amazon didn’t immediately respond to request for additional comment.

Facebook working on voice assistant to rival Amazon’s Alexa

(Reuters) – Facebook Inc is working to develop a voice assistant to rival the likes of Amazon.com Inc’s Alexa, Apple Inc’s Siri and Alphabet Inc’s Google Assistant.

“We are working to develop voice and AI assistant technologies that may work across our family of AR/VR products including Portal, Oculus and future products,” a Facebook spokesperson told Reuters in an e-mailed response on Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, CNBC reported about the development, saying that the team behind the technology has been contacting vendors in the smart speaker supply chain.

However, it remains unclear how exactly Facebook envisions people using the assistant, but it could potentially be used on the company’s Portal video chat smart speakers, the Oculus headsets or other future projects, CNBC reported.

According to research firm eMarketer, Amazon’s Echo is expected to capture 63.3 percent of smart speaker users in 2019, while Google Home will account for 31 percent.

Reporting by Vibhuti Sharma in Bengaluru; Editing by James Emmanuel

Skype is Dropping Cortana Bot While Promoting Alexa

Cnet reported last week that Skype is discontinuing its integrated Cortana bot on April 30th, 2019, and is now promoting Amazon Alexa voice assistant integration. OnMSFT is reporting that Skype users have been seeing promotional offerings of 200 free minutes when they link their Skype and Amazon accounts. Microsoft and Amazon announced Skype calling on Alexa in November 2018, at the time of that announcement they were also offering 200 minutes of free calls once user’s Skype and Alexa accounts had been linked. Even though this promotional offer may not be new, it is significant that it is being more heavily promoted now that the Cortana bot will be leaving soon. Twitter user Florian Beaubois took screenshots of the Skype notifications to users:

MICROSOFT IS DOWNPLAYING THE VOICE ASSISTANT SWITCH

A Microsoft spokesperson told Cnet that the Alexa promotion and Cortana’s discontinuation are unrelated. When the Cortana chat bot leaves at the end of April, Skype will still offer Cortana suggestions which can be personalized to a user or chat when given permission. Cortana suggestions are like smart replies, they appear in a chat conversation as emoticons, GIFs, weather, movies, or restaurants. A user can select the suggestion to include it in a reply. The Microsoft spokesperson said in an email,

We are constantly evaluating and testing our products to ensure they offer the best and most productive experiences. We are discontinuing the Cortana bot within Skype, but Cortana suggestions are still available.

Microsoft announced plans to integrate Cortana into Skype as a bot at Microsoft Build 2016. The integration allowed users to order food, book trips, transcribe video messages and make calendar appointments through Cortana. In December 2016, Microsoft announced it’s own smart speaker, INVOKE, in collaboration with Harman Kardon, featuring the ability for users to make and receive calls on Skype with Cortana.

WHY MICROSOFT’S PROMOTION OF A RIVAL VOICE ASSISTANT MAKES SENSE

At first glance, it seems pretty odd that Microsoft is promoting an Alexa integration with Skype rather than its in-house Cortana. However, the decision does make sense when considering Cortana’s enterprise focus. Late January 2019 Business Insider reported that Microsoft admitted it can’t beat Amazon and Google in the voice assistant war. Commentsfrom Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella to The Verge confirmed Microsoft’s plans to evolve Cortana into an app or service that will work with other voice assistant platforms. So the move could just be a part of Microsoft’s plans to scale back Cortana and focus on its enterprise use. Nadella said,

Cortana needs to be that skill for anybody who’s a Microsoft 365 subscriber.

Cortana already has deep integration with the Office Suite, allowing Alexa users to leverage Cortana to schedule meetings, access calendars, and set reminders. Business Insider also reports that Cortana is the most popular voice assistant among enterprises in North America and Europe with nearly half, 49%, of companies in these regions that use a voice assistant using Cortana. In addition, another 13% of enterprises in North America and Europe plan to implement Cortana in 2019 according to data from the Business Insider Intelligence’s New Tech Survey.

Microsoft’s decision to retire the Cortana chat-bot in Skype and promote Alexa integration with Skype is a move that could prove useful in the long run by allowing Microsoft to enhance itself as an open, cross-platform ecosystem. Voicebot’s Bret Kinsella wrote about Cortana’s enterprise focus in 2016 in VentureBeatin 2017 on Voicebot.ai, and again in January 2019 on Voicebot.ai.

Microsoft Should Go All-in with Cortana for B2B Voice Applications

Amazon’s Alexa for Business

Amazon’s Alexa for Business Blueprints lets employees make custom voice apps

Use Alexa in your place of work? There’s cause for minor celebration: Today marks the launch of Alexa for Business Blueprints, a set of dozens of preconfigured templates for Amazon’s intelligent assistant that let customers create and publish private skills without having to write code. They’re currently available in the U.S., with additional territories presumably on the way.

As Amazon product marketing manager Ben Grossman explains in a blog post, Alexa for Business Blueprints stay within workplaces — they can’t be used on devices outside of an organization — and any employee can use them to submit voice app requests. How? Simply by signing in with an Amazon account, filling in the requests and responses fields, and supplying an Alexa for Business organization identifier (or ARN). It’s up to IT administrators to review and selectively enable apps for rooms (or the entire organization) as they come in.

A few of the available Blueprints address work-related questions like “What’s the guest Wi-Fi password?”, “What are the hours for IT?”, and “When does open enrollment start?” Others cover pertinent subjects like office layout (“Alexa, ask Team Guide, where’s the mailing center?”) and equipment setup (“How do I set up corporate email on my phone?”).

Coinciding with the rollout of Alexa for Business Blueprints, two new Skills Blueprints have been added to the Alexa Skills Blueprints website under a new Business category: a Business Q&A Blueprint for custom questions and answers, and an Onboard Guide Blueprint to handle new hire questions.

Amazon says that already, Amazon for Business users like Glidewell Dental plan to use the Blueprints to keep staff updated with company information and events, and that Saint Louis University and Emerson University hope to drive student and faculty engagement and support curriculum. “[S]ome companies attempting to develop custom Alexa skills found they didn’t have the resources to build their own private skills, which can take several months to design and release to their organization,” Grossman wrote.

Alexa for Business made its debut two years ago at Amazon Web Services’ re:Invent conference. It allows enterprise users to schedule meeting rooms (with third-party services such as Cisco, Polycom, Zoom), share itinerary information (through Concur), check voicemail messages, and quickly see if meeting rooms are available, and it enables company admins to control users’ settings and capabilities through a web dashboard. Beyond traditional office environments, Amazon has pitched it as a way to manage Echo speakers in places like hotels and dorm rooms.

Today’s launch comes months after Amazon introduced personal Blueprints for personal Alexa skills, which are assigned to Alexa-enabled devices registered to a specific Amazon account. Like voice apps created with Alexa for Business Blueprints, they don’t appear among the tens of thousands of third-party skills in the Alexa Skills Store.

Home Mini bundle for $129 comes with a $50 Hulu gift card

This discounted Google Home Hub + Google Home Mini bundle for $129 comes with a $50 Hulu gift card

Control smart home devices, rock out to your favorite tunes, and more.

Every so often, we’ll see a stellar deal on the Google Home Hub that makes picking one up super tempting, and it looks like such a deal is now live at BuyDig. While supplies last, you can pick up a Google Home Hub and Google Home Mini bundle with a $50 Hulu gift card for only $129 when you enter promo code ABN13 during checkout. Just the Google Home Hub alone would normally cost you $149, but with today’s deal you not only save $20 on its cost but also pick up the $49 Google Home Mini and a $50 Hulu gift card with it at no additional charge. In total, this package should cost closer to $250. You can choose between Chalk or Charcoal colored speakers with this offer, and shipping is free.

Google Home Hub is the only first-party Google home device with a screen, allowing you to see as well as hear information you request. It has a 7-inch touchscreen display, two far-field mics, and an ambient light sensor to ensure the display color and brightness fit in with its surroundings. The screen makes it more useful for visual tasks like checking your calendar, following along with recipes in the kitchen, watching YouTube, seeing the weather forecast, and more. We reviewed the Hub on release, praising its display, build quality and smart home management tools.