Amazon announced today that the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) API now supports notifications. There is an important detail in that statement. AVS is the service that third parties use to integrate Alexa into their products like smartphones, appliances and robots. It is not Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) which is what independent developers use when building the voice apps referred to as Alexa skills.
Today, we are working with a handful of companies as part of the private beta for this feature [in ASK]. AccuWeather will provide weather updates, and The Washington Post will provide users breaking news alerts. Notifications for ASK will be available to all skill builders soon in a public beta.
Notifications Will Support Both Visual and Audio Indicators
Amazon originally announced this Alexa skill feature as “coming soon” back in May. The blog post by Amazon’s Ted Karcaewski does outline how the feature will work.
The Notifications feature allows Alexa to proactively indicate that there is new content from core features, such as Shopping updates, and Alexa skills for the user to retrieve. Specifically, this feature exposes new directives that instruct the device-side client to display visual indicators (an LED) and play audio when a notification is available.
Developers Need Notifications for User Retention and Features
I am sure this slow roll out for notifications will disappoint a number of developers. While discovery may be the biggest obstacle facing developers today, re-engagement is certainly among the top three issues. We learned in mobile apps that notifications are critical tools in motivating user re-engagement. That translates directly into a voice app’s user retention and monthly active user metrics.
The good news is that VoiceLabs data show that user retention rates have doubled since the beginning of 2017. The bad news is that retention is still only at 6%. Notifications could be a key tool to drive that number up and provide a more robust user experience. The Washington Post skill will provide notifications about breaking news and AccuWeather about pending weather events. There are many other skills with similar offerings that will be anxious to implement notifications as soon as possible. Let’s hope the wait doesn’t last too much longer.