We had a bit of fun last week writing that Alexa was taking time out to work on itself — but the reality of the matter is that Amazon isn't resting easy. As of late, Alexa has grown to play a broader role in the Amazon ecosystem. It was embedded into the Amazon mobile app last month, for instance.
More recently, the online retail giant rolled out additional capabilities for third-party developers to create skills that leverage the voice-activated assistant's location capabilities.
Mid last week, Amazon rolled out a new ‘Device Address’ API that enables programmers to build out location-based skills by incorporating consumer location information into their Alexa interactions.
In a company blog post, Amazon's Jeff Blankenburg wrote, “The new Device Address API enables skills to request and access the configured address in the customer’s device settings. This means you can build skills with the context to understand the customers who use the skill, then use the data to customize the voice experience.”
In a nutshell, developers can now create skills that can provide users with directions or set their home address as a delivery drop-off point — once the user provides consent for the use of location data, of course. Users can also request a less specific set of data, such as zip code, to provide local insights and services.
This sort of functionality already exists in some facets of Alexa, but its use was mostly limited to skills Amazon created itself as well as in a few select brands’ skills like AccuWeather's local forecast capabilities and Real’s local news and store opening hours. The wide release of the API means that anyone can now build a feature that leverages location services.
Along with evening out the playing field for smaller or independent skill developers, embedded location functionality across all skill offerings will likely work to enhance the user experience, growing Amazon's already lofty reputation as a personalization innovator.
But the most notable part of the location API is that it allows Alexa to better compete in one of the areas where Google Home currently excels.
Google is about as close to synonymous with location services as a tech company can get, barring hardware offerings from GPS device manufacturers. Google Maps as a service has become a mainstay of online and mobile mapping across the U.S. and globally.
In the voice-activated space, location is also one of the key elements for Google as a means to provide inventory information from nearby retail locations via Google Assistant. (The other is the inventory feeds retailers who buy ads send Google.)
But picture this — Alexa is already partnering up with connected car manufacturers to become the voice-based interface behind the dashboard. If users are primed to enable location-based services in their Echo devices, what's stopping Amazon from jumping into navigation proper with Alexa as the helpful voice providing turn by turn guidance?
Apple is in the same location boat on the mobile end — even more so than Google in the iOS ecosystem. And while there are many more iPhones out there than Echo hardware devices as of now, Alexa is gunning to make its way into everything. If Alexa navigation via connected car software takes to the market and makes its way into smartphones, Apple could face some stiff competition from Amazon on the location-cum-navigation front.
Because, at least in theory, navigation capabilities in the car don't rely on a readable map as much as they do a voice to indicate which way to go.
The road ahead is fraught with competition. Google has Android Auto and Apple has CarPlay. Both come with popular navigation tools. Siri, judging from the latest iOS update, is building out its payment functionalities on a segment by segment basis and Google is diving into payments head first.
Amazon is strong on the payments front, no doubt, but doesn't yet have the navigation notoriety of the other two — but it's likely the three could reach a point of collision sooner rather than later. If and when the navigation and payment functionalities are level, it will be the most seamless user experience which determines the voice-activated victor.