Amazon’s Alexa has executed a surprise takeover of the smart home industry since the launch of the Echo a few years ago, but now the company is opening up Alexa’s technology for other applications. According to a report from Reuters, Amazon is giving developers access to the same tools that make up the foundations of Alexa via a new platform called Amazon Lex. In “preview phase” since 2016, Amazon Lex is now rolling out to all developers and gives them the tool to build “conversational interfaces” using the speech- and text-recognition technology behind Alexa.
This essentially lets developers build new voice- or text-based chatbots into their existing apps, adding an interactive portion that wasn’t available before. While Amazon has allowed companies to build Alexa into their products for quite some time—it nearly took over the smart home section of this year’s CES—Lex allows developers to quickly build chatbots that give the users the power to control their services with voice or text input.
While Amazon Lex isn’t technically putting Alexa into other developer’s apps, it’s furthering Amazon’s goal of making Alexa the most widely used voice assistant. Not only will Amazon make money by charging developers depending on how many text and voice requests Lex processes, but those queries will also help build better, more intelligent Alexa and Lex platforms. AI assistants need to process lots of data to become better at answering questions, so all the training that developers put Lex through will give Amazon the data necessary to improve its AI systems.
Lex and Alexa position Amazon as an even bigger competitor to Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, and Microsoft’s Cortana. While Amazon has sold about 10 million Alexa-equipped Echo speakers, Apple and Google have the advantage of having their assistants in hundreds of millions of smartphones.
This newfound freedom developers have to use Amazon Lex will likely open up new uses for Amazon’s voice assistant technologyAmazon wants developers to integrate Alexa features into chatbots and eventually Alexa. One of the examples Amazon writes about in its Lex information page details how a user could order a coffee drink using a chatbot text interaction, with the bot asking contextual questions like “What size?” and “Would you like that iced or hot?” E-commerce interactions will likely be huge for Lex going forward, as they have been for Alexa. Amazon already offers Alexa-specific shopping deals for users who use voice commands to place orders. Amazon also added Alexa capabilities to its iOS app, subtly encouraging Apple users to shop through the online retailer’s app if and when they want to use Alexa.