We’ve all become accustomed to 3rd party skills being enabled on the voice-enabled digital assistants within our smartspeakers and phones. Each AI platform has set up an API to allow brands, media outlets, and other voice-enabled vendors to set up skills on their platform. To give you an idea of the scale we’re talking, Alexa alone has over 50,000 approved 3rd party skills in operation right now.
Now it looks like the trend towards 3rd party skills may be turning, based on early reports that Amazon is considering removing them to create a “Skill Free” Alexa. Amazon’s justification for killing vendor skills is that they don’t perform well and often result in confusing responses to users’ voice commands. However there might be a more diabolical motivation for Amazon to drop these skills. Without preprogrammed 3rd party skills all voice search requests will be responded to organically – meaning in whatever way Alexa’s algorithm decides to respond. Think of the difference between the paid ads at the top of a Google search screen and then the organic listings below. Without the ability to sponsor search responses at the top Google (Amazon in this case) controls the entire response playing field.
The problem with Amazon organically controlling all voice requests is obvious. Imagine trying to order more Tide laundry detergent through your Amazon Prime account, but get offered the Bezos Brand detergent instead. It’s a simple case of controlling the information pipeline to impact purchase decisions. I’m sure some brands out there are pretty nervous about the possibility of a “Skill Free” world.