"The future of payments is in the voice," MPD CEO Karen Webster wrote on April 28 when the 2016 PYMNTS/Alexa Challenge was first introduced.
And the future is getting increasingly closer thanks to the number of developers across the payments and commerce ecosystem looking to use voice as the “access device” into a reimagined world of commerce.
This four-week competition — the first of its kind, given its access to hands-on mentorship of the Alexa brain trust — taps into the imaginations of innovators developing voice-activated payments and financial services of the future using Alexa. While Alexa — the voice-activated ecosystem that powers Amazon consumers to engage with devices in an easy, conversational way — spent the first part of its life hidden behind the device it was first known for (the Amazon Echo), Alexa's ecosystem is rapidly attracting attention of its own as the power of the voice-activated tech expands across a variety of ecosystems and devices, including cars!
Alexa’s own team is challenging these teams to think about Alexa in new and different ways. If Alexa 1.0 was a voice on the other end of the Echo who could spit back routine responses, like the weather and news headlines, these 13 teams are being stretched to think about how to use Alexa in ways to make conversational and contextual interaction a reality.
So, in just 10 days, these 13 companies — Best Innovation Group (BIG), DaVincian Healthcare, Discover, EXA, Feasty, FIS, Fiserv, ONvocal powered by People Power, PayButler, USAA, Vantiv, Visa and Western Union — have pinned the innovation meter and are doing everything from solving the $60 billion annual prescription abandonment problem to making checkout abandonment a thing of the past. Some are focused on giving chatbots a run for their money in the customer service arena, while others are using the technology to make financial services more accessible to a variety of customer segments, including the physically challenged. There are even a few whose ideas are so top secret we can’t even give you a hint!
Alexa Brings Lexi On The iPhone
Alexa just got a little trendier. Name-wise, that is.
It was recently announced that Alexa will be available on Apple's iOS 9 devices through the Lexi app that's available for $4.99 on the App Store. So, for those who aren't willing to shell out the $180 to have Alexa on the Amazon Echo, they can instead rely on Lexi.
On their $600 iPhone.
To use Lexi, customers must still have an Amazon account for the service to work. And Lexi doesn't have the power at the moment to integrate with Amazon Prime Music or a Kindle, like her more staid twin, Alexa, does on the Echo.
What this move does mean for Lexi and the Alexa ecosystem is that there's another personal assistant to compete with outside of Siri (Apple) and Cortana (Microsoft).
What's For Dinner?
Now, who hasn't wondered that question? And then, stared into a fridge full of ingredients trying to figure out how to make a meal out of Brussels sprouts, eggs, parmesan cheese, chickpeas and whole wheat pasta.
Now, thanks to Alexa and a skill called Hungry Host, that problem could soon be solved. And it's as simple as telling Alexa what ingredients are in that fridge and Alexa does the rest for you. Once Alexa has all the ingredients, she will surface a recipe and read it off to you step by step.
While this app isn't officially in market as it was part of a recent hackathon, it shows how far Alexa's reach can go.
Alexa Re-Routes — And Connects More Things By Voice
Alexa has a new friend, and its name is Almond.
Almond is a type of smart router from Securifi that has integrated with Amazon's Alexa in order to enable consumers to control their routers via their voice-activated friend, Alexa. What's more, it means that Alexa can be used to power everything that the smart router can power.
That means virtually everything connected to this router can be powered by voice, thanks to Alexa.
'Alexa, Pay My Bill'
“Alexa, ask Capital One: When is my credit card payment due?”
That’s just one of the questions that Capital One customers can soon use to ask the Amazon Echo device and its virtual assistant, Alexa, to conduct voice-activated banking services. Alexa can also share balances and pay credit card bills for that account.
This is all possible through a new partnership between Amazon and Capital One to enable customers to conduct bank transactions with their voice. The bank says these payments are fully encrypted, leaving Amazon out of the account process. Alexa also lets its users have a security code so other users cannot authorize transactions.
Alexa's Murder Mystery Adventure
One of Alexa's more whimsical pairings is through a new partnership with Warner Bros and DC Comics for an odd promotional purpose.
In this particular pairing, Alexa is being used as a personal assistant in a game called "The Wayne Investigation," which gives users a type of choose-your-own-adventure type of story where Alexa acts as the user's eyes and ears as they investigate the death of Batman's (AKA: Bruce Wayne) parents.
The real reason for this integration? It was a promotion for "Batman v Superman," but it also added a little adventure to Alexa's ecosystem.
Pizza Or Car Delivery — On Demand
While the first reports about the power of Alexa came after Domino's integrated the service in order for users to order a pizza on-demand, it was soon realized that pizza wasn't the only thing consumers could order via the voice-activated assistant.
Uber announced in February that it would also integrate with Amazon's smart home hub in order for its users to simply say "call me an Uber" and have an Uber show up at that person's door within minutes.
"Maybe you're running late and your phone's charging in another room or you're not the most savvy smartphone user, having the ability to ask Alexa to get you an Uber just by using your voice takes the magic of getting a ride to an entirely new level," said Matt Wyndowe, Uber's head of product partnerships. "We used to say push a button, get a ride; now, with the help of Alexa, you don't have to lift a finger."
Alexa Gets Its Groove On
Back in early February, it was announced that Amazon Echo would be integrating with Spotify in order to give consumers the chance to ask Alexa for any song or playlist of their choosing.
While Alexa and the Echo already supported Prime Music, Pandora, TuneIn and iHeartRadio, this was just another example of Amazon's smart speaker integrating with a popular consumer service, giving consumers another reason they just might need Alexa in their home.
Besides adding music, Alexa has also integrated with a variety of game services, including the ability to play the popular gameshow "Jeopardy" by simply asking Alexa to start a game and she'll begin to rattle off trivia questions.
From Commerce To Cars
While most people may still think of Alexa as just another way to interact with and shop on Amazon, it's becoming increasingly clear that that's no longer the case.
In fact, Alexa has even found its way into the auto marketplace, with its possible future integration with Ford vehicles. Although it's still in test mode, Ford is testing how it could integrate Alexa's capabilities to enhance its own technology offerings for consumers. This includes the ability to remotely start and unlock a car, check for fuel levels and get access to vehicle location.
Users could also customize their experience so it completed other tasks for them, like taking voice commands while in the car to gather shopping lists or get weather reports, directions and more.
And that's just a taste of what the rapidly growing Amazon Alexa ecosystem has to offer. For 13 of the newest and hottest ideas, don’t forget to join us on June 2 for the PYMNTS/Alexa Challenge Grand Finale!