You no longer need to ask Alexa to “enable” a skill before accessing it. The Amazon Echo and its Alexa service created the category of voice assistants that did more than just search or execute simple, one-off tasks. Google came to market with its Google Home smart speaker and Google Assistant service a full two years after Echo and Alexa. As a result, Google has mostly been playing catch-up with Alexa. For example, there are about 70 times more voice apps for Alexa (skills) than Google Assistant (Actions). However, in one area, Google had an advantage on day one.
The App Model Cedes to the Web Model
Originally, you could only enable Amazon Alexa skills by going into your mobile Alexa app and manually selecting the skill you would like to access. That was not well aligned with the hands-free, voice-first model. However, the process changed about nine months ago when users could finally enable skills by voice. The idea of enabling a skill is similar to the mobile model for downloading apps. While this model made sense for mobile where each new app consumed valuable storage space and accessed local phone features as part of the user experience, it provides no user value in a voice assistant model where all of the intelligence and functionality resides in the cloud.
By contrast, Google Home and its Google Assistant make all of the third-party apps (Actions on Google) available immediately. This is more like the web model. All of the web content resides in the cloud. You don’t need to enable anything. You only need to know where to go or to follow a search result to a destination through your visual browser. By allowing access to Alexa skills without enabling them first, Amazon is acknowledging the need to reduce friction between users and Alexa skills that can fulfill their request. Amazon is migrating to a web model for content access.
You Still Need to Know the Name
CNET’s Taylor Martin points out that you still need to know the name to access the Alexa skill. I have not previously enabled Fireplace Sounds or The Magic Door and was taken to them directly when I asked Alexa to open the skills by name. So, I can confirm that skipping the enablement process works. I also asked Alexa for Ambient noise and it offered me three options, Ocean Sounds, Thunderstorm Sounds and Rain Sounds. That means voice search for discovering new skills is working in some areas. However, I was unsuccessful with other search style queries where I didn’t know the skill name.
This market is not all about catching up with Amazon Alexa. In some cases, innovation by competitors will mean Amazon needs to add functionality to maintain its advantage or shore up a deficiency. Kudos to Amazon for reducing the friction between users and Alexa skills. It will be interesting to see how Amazon now tackles the skill discovery problem. Better search would be a great place to start.