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Smart Home

Amazon's Alexa Skills can borrow each other's tricks now

Alexa's skills just learned how to use... Alexa's skills.

Ben Fox Rubin/CNET

Let's say you're using an Alexa skill that seeks out nearby karaoke nights in your city. It finds one at a cozy little bar across town. Sounds perfect.

"Should I go ahead and order you an Uber?" Alexa asks. You're still in the karaoke-finding skill, but that doesn't matter. You say yes, Alexa orders the Uber, and you start warming up for a rousing rendition of Welcome to the Jungle while you wait for your car to arrive.

That's the idea behind "Skill Connections," a new feature from Amazon available to anybody who makes an Alexa skill. With Connections, the developers of one skill can incorporate the functionality of another skill into their own with only "minimal code changes." The result: karaoke skills that can order Ubers -- no Uber skill necessary.

Uber is, indeed, one of the three skills that developers can borrow from at launch. The other two are restaurant reservations from OpenTable and voice-activated printing from HP. As another example, Amazon points out that users of the AllRecipes skill can now use that HP connection to print recipes out after hearing one that sounds tasty. Amazon adds that Epson and Canon are coming soon with shared printing skills of their own.

There's obvious incentive for sharing your skill's functionality. For instance, getting Uber into dozens of new skills will ultimately funnel more riders Uber's way. On Amazon's end, Skill Connections will let the company solidify popular skills into near-universal Alexa functions, making Alexa a more capable and frictionless assistant in the process.

To that end, I'm curious to see how Amazon handles things once you've got multiple Connection options in a given category. If Lyft follows Uber's lead here, will it be up to the karaoke skills and their kin to pick which ridesharing connection they make? What about users -- will they get to pick their default connections of choice for each category, or will they just have to take what Alexa gives them? I've reached out to Amazon and will update this space if I hear back.

Amazon says it's now accepting applications from developers who wish to share their skill's functionality with other developers, and that it'll keep the community posted as options expand.

So, moving forward, expect to see more skills borrowing more skills from more skills.