We’ll say it again: They grow up so fast. The past few weeks have seen some major milestones surpassed in the voice-enabled ecosystem. First up: It’s less than two full months into the new year, and Alexa has hit 10,000 skills.
The 10,000th skill for Amazon’s AI assistant was approved on the night of Feb. 22, according to Wired. It’s a game called “Beat the Intro,” which had already been seen on the App Store and Google Play. That night, the “name that tune”-style game was given the Alexa treatment, adding voice functionality to the user experience.
While 10,000 seems like a major milestone — and it is in some ways — the statistic still pales in comparison to the number of apps that major smartphone operating systems boast. But that’s all just part of growing up for a digital platform. To hit 10,000 skills around now, Amazon’s Alexa had to gain some 3,000 in the beginning of 2017 alone — that’s a major influx of developer interest in the space.
While Alexa currently owns the majority share of the voice-enabled device space with over 7 million Amazon Echo devices in users’ homes as of the beginning of February, Google is working to catch up. The tech giant recently added voice shopping functionality to Google Assistant, meaning users can now order items via Google Home. Google Assistant will pull goods from the retailers that already support Google Express — including Target, Costco, Whole Foods and Petsmart — after users input credit or debit card info and a delivery address.
Even with Echo’s two-year head start and some 3,000 integrations with other apps and services, only 32 percent of owners use Alexa to shop, according to data from Business Insider. This suggests that Google may not have too far to go to catch up to Alexa. Though the Google Home marketplace isn’t as cohesive as retail giant Amazon’s offering, the major retail brands linked to Google could work to entice more users to the Google side by way of entrenched customer loyalty and variety.
While Alexa’s 10,000th skill was a voice-enabled game and Google Home has opened for business, the voice-activated ecosystem is maturing fast, with research and development extending beyond commerce, entertainment and gaming.
Last month we covered the topic of potential health functionalities in the voice-activated ecosystem, noting that a number of institutions were researching voice applications as a means to diagnose medical and psychological issues. Collaborative research from a number of institutions is starting to show that short audio clips of the human voice may be used to diagnose a variety of diseases, psychiatric disorders and other health conditions — in some cases, potentially sooner than current diagnostic processes allow.
While the industry is still a ways from virtual MDs capable of diagnosing post-traumatic stress disorder or a case of strep using only audio files, health care can still benefit from voice-enabled technologies.
Cooperation between consumer, commercial and enterprise technology company Lenovo and connected home health care solutions provider Orbita has led to the release of a virtual home care system. The system combines Lenovo’s Alexa-enabled Smart Assistant hardware with Orbita’s Voice, a voice experience manager for health care.
Lenovo and Orbita showed the new technology at the 2017 Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Conference last week. The goal was to demonstrate the capabilities that voice-activated technologies could bring to post-acute and chronic patient home care.
“There is a significant gap in the delivery of care; it’s not what happens when in front of your providers that’s most important, but what happens at home, making it a care setting. Leveraging our voice and utilizing telehealth to interact with a patient’s provider will transform the delivery of care model,” said Tom Foley, director of global health solution strategy at Lenovo Health, in a statement.
Voice technology and connectivity could work to enhance patients’ ability to access and share information with providers, caregivers and family members, the vendors said, as well as to enable better care management, treatment adherence and medication compliance.
Health care is just one of the many major industries looking into voice-activated technologies. Whereas the voice-activated space is currently dominated by just a few tech players with a growing number of skills, the ecosystem has the potential to grow to any number of sectors in the future — especially as developer interest continues to grow and monetization comes into play.