Amazon has taken a major step in unbundling its Alexa personal assistant from the Echo platform that will ship on July 14 with the announcement of the Alex Skills Kit this week.
ASK is a collection of APIs and tools that make it possible for developers to create new voice-driven capabilities for Alexa.
Available as a free download through Amazon, ASK is targeted at both professional and hobbyist users. The developer must use Alexa's cloud-based APIs to process Alexa requests.
The simplest way to have this happen is through the use of AWS Lambda, a service that runs a developer's code in response to triggers as well as managing the compute resources in the Amazon Web Services Cloud. Developers upload the code for the new Alexa skill they are creating, and AWS Lambda executes the code in response to Alexa voice interactions.
AWS Lambda is available with a free, 12-month trial period through the AWS free tier program. That offer includes one million free Lambda requests per month, as well as 3.2 million seconds of free Lambda computer time per month.
But wait, there's more!
Amazon also announced the Alexa Voice Service, a method that completely uncouples voice requests from the Echo device. If your hardware has a speaker and microphone and is connected to the Internet, you can use Alexa as a processing engine for your own device.
[Read more about Amazon Echo.]
Amazon says that building such a service is free. In its June 25 announcement, the company noted that: "Using AVS to power speech experiences on your devices is completely free."
It seems that Amazon will settle for having companies use its cloud platform and charging for that, rather than add an AVS surcharge. AVS is not yet shipping generally, but there is a sign up for it available.
And they are going double the offer!
Amazon also announced the Alexa Fund, which is chock-full of $100 million in development money for Alexa. Amazon says that Alexa Fund is for developing new services for the Echo, as well as developing new devices that use Alexa for those devices.
So, not only is Amazon providing free tools to develop with; it may give you money to fund the development effort.
All in all, this seems an incredibly smooth move on Amazon's part.
It promotes the Echo. It locks developers into using AWS. It establishes the credibility for voice as a new market segment and interface that it can invest in with the Fund. This gives the Echo a fighting chance to succeed that might have been in question only a few days ago.