Alexa Live, the annual app developer conference on Amazon’s voice assistant platform, kicks off Wednesday, with more than a few surprises. On the one hand, the Alexa developer community is much stronger than one might expect, with 900,000 developers who have so far built 130,000 Alexa Skills (Amazon’s brand name for apps Alexa), some of which make over $ 1 million a year through app purchases.
These numbers come from an interview with Nedim Fresko, Amazon vice president in charge of Alexa, who told me that 140,000 different smart home products interface with Alexa. That leads to two of the other big themes of this year’s Alexa Live – ambient computing and device interoperability.
Amazon’s Fresko sees the recent boom in digital voice assistants as another era in the history of computing, such as the personal computer revolutions, the birth of the Internet, and the transition to mobile-first. Ambient computing harnesses all of these technologies and adds voice commands, like with the Amazon Echo smart speakers.
For example, Alexa’s new Send to Phone feature lets you start an interaction on an Alexa device and then continue on your phone. To do this, Alexa connects directly to the relevant mobile application and sends a push notification, allowing you to pick up where you left off with Alexa.
To promote the spread of ambient computing, Amazon announced theearlier this year, which allows other companies to hire the technology behind Alexa to create their own voice assistants, which can respond to Alexa or a wake-up call of the provider’s choice (or both).
Verizon is among the partners that are taking advantage of this capability with a device called, which Amazon announced in a blog post on Wednesday. Amazon says the new device is designed to help Verizon broadband customers set up new services and manage their accounts, and will respond to both “Alexa” and “Hi, Verizon.”
But for computing to become truly ambient, smart devices must communicate with each other. This is one of the reasons why Matter, smart home interoperability(formerly Project CHIP), will play a key role at this year’s Alexa Live.
Amazon says it plans to integrate Matter compatibility with virtually all Amazon Echo devices (except first-gen speakers) by sending an update over the air, and says additional connectivity – like the use of Matter-compatible bridges to connect to -Material-compatible devices – are also in preparation.
Two huge competitors in the field of voice assistants – Google and Apple – have already announced their intention to integrate Matter into their respective voice assistants, Google Assistant and Siri. Google has all but confirmed that Matter’s compatibility means that its devices, especially its Nest smart thermostats, will integrate with competing ecosystems like Apple and Amazon.
Apple has been a little more low-key on the subject, but included a brief tutorial during this year’s WWDC on how developers can integrate Matter into their HomeKit-enabled apps. For its part, Apple says it will extend the HomeKit framework to include Matter protocols.
Another feature that Amazon announced during the Alexa Live keynote is Alexa Shopping Actions, which Amazon says will allow developers to earn money through the company’s affiliate program. Basically, developers can promote physical products through their apps or allow users to browse Amazon product listings and purchase through Alexa, with the developer earning a small percentage of the deal.