Amazon Alexa developers can now ask for customer’s location, track their skills’ performance

Amazon this morning rolled out new tools for developers of Alexa apps, aka “Skills,” which aim to give them more insight into their app’s users, as well as allow them to build location-based skills. The first is a new metrics dashboard – similar to those used by developers of mobile applications, but designed for these voice apps – which lets Alexa developers track things like unique customers, sessions, utterances (spoken words) and intents.

The other is a device address API which allows developers to request specific location data from their customers, including street address, city, state, zip, and country.

The dashboard is being made available in the developer portal, and presents a high-level view of the app’s metrics in the overview tab – like total customers, sessions, utterances, etc. A separate sessions tab will let developers drill down into this data further, to see things like the number of successful end session types, average number of sessions per customer, average number of utterances by customer, and more.

An intents tab helps developers figure out where they may have gone right and wrong with their skill’s design, by surfacing metrics like failed utterances by intent, and total number of utterances by intent.

Or, in layman’s terms, this means developers will be able to find answers to basic questions about their app – like how many customers do they have, if more people are adding the skill and using it, what time of day the skill is more heavily used, and more.

Meanwhile, the addition of the device address API is meant to improve those skills that require a precise address or more specific location. For example, food and grocery delivery services can’t rely on a customer’s general location – they need to know a house number.

 The new API will allow developers to build skills where users provide consent to share this information. It can also be used to share a broader location, like country and postal code only, in addition to a physical address.

As an added protection, users can only consent to sharing their location via the Alexa mobile app – not by voice. That could cut down on accidental confirmations, as users will explicitly have to agree to this data sharing.

Developers can now prompt for consent using a new “AskForPermissionsConsent” card style which pops up in the Alexa app.

Some brands have already rolled out the new API to their own apps, including Accuweather, Just Eat, and German retail chain, Real. Accuweather is using it to provide local weather information, while Just East is using it for food ordering. Real, meanwhile, is offering local news, discounts for local stores, and local store hours.

Amazon Chime goes after WebEx, Skype for Business and more

Companies looking for a new video- and teleconferencing system have a fresh face to turn to in the market: Amazon Web Services.aws logo stock reinvent

On Monday, the public cloud provider announced the launch of Amazon Chime, a new service that’s designed to compete with the likes of WebEx, Skype for Business and GoToMeeting. It’s a powerful swing at some very entrenched enterprise software players by the public cloud provider.

AWS launched the service with native applications for Windows, MacOS, iOS and Android. Chime’s infrastructure is based in the U.S., but Gene Farrell, AWS’s vice president of enterprise applications, said that the service can be accessed worldwide.

One of Chime’s interesting features is a visual roster of meeting participants that includes information about any people who have distracting background noise interrupting the call. In a meeting without a moderator, any user can choose to mute one of their fellow participants so that the rest on the call don’t have to listen to a barking dog or the sound of typing.

People who get muted in that way will get notified that their mic has been blocked, and can choose to unmute themselves whenever they want to.

In addition, users can call into a Chime conference call using a regular phone number, in the event they can’t access the service’s app for one reason or another. In the future, Farrell said that AWS also plans to add support for person to person calls over a traditional telephone network.

Chime is part of AWS’s portfolio of applications focused on helping business users with their work. That set of services started with the company’s WorkSpaces cloud virtual desktop as a service offering, and now includes AWS’s WorkDocs office suite, WorkMail email service and QuickSight business intelligence service.

The service will be available in three pricing tiers. Basic offers users one-on-one voice and video calls, plus group chat capabilities. Plus costs US$2.50 per user per month, and adds support for screen sharing and integration with identity management systems through SAML and Active Directory.

Pro costs $15 per user per month, and lets users do all of the above, plus host meetings with up to 100 participants. Users at the other two pricing tiers can join conferences set up by Pro users, so companies can mix and match licenses to minimize Chime’s cost.

Amazon offers a free trial of all the Pro features for 30 days. After that expires, customers can choose to keep using the Basic tier, or pay for more advanced functionality. Farrell said that Chime could reduce a company’s unified communications bill by up to 70 percent.

Companies with existing in-room conferencing systems made by companies like Polycom and Crestron will be able to set those devices up to integrate with Chime.

To help with adoption, AWS is working with Level 3 Communications and Vonage. Level 3 will market Chime to its enterprise customers, while Vonage will work with small businesses. Both offerings will be available in the second quarter of this year.

Amazon has already been testing Chime with a handful of customers, including fashion retailer Brooks Brothers. The company, which was founded in 1818, has rolled out Chime to 90 percent of its corporate staff.