"Alexa" is the virtual, voice-activated assistant housed in the smash hit Amazon Echo smart speaker, and one of her claims to fame is a growing library of third-party voice apps called "skills." Each one of them teaches her a new trick or two, and today, that library of skills hit a major milestone, topping 10,000 in total.
That's an awful lot of tricks -- and a whopping 300 percent increase since just last September -- but it leads to a fair follow-up question: Is anybody actually using them?
The answer: sort of. Marquee integrations with services like Spotify and the New York Times obviously get a great deal of play, and the growing number of smart home skills are helping more and more people integrate Alexa into their day-to-day, too.
Beneath those standouts, however, is an ocean of skills with zero ratings and questionable utility, everything from a skill that, for some unimaginable reason, reads off facts about James Prescott Joule whenever you ask for one to something called "sensory organs" that promises "to revealing your favorite sensing part." Calling them solutions in search of problems is probably putting it generously.
As popular as the Echo has become, it's not difficult to draw parallels to the early days of the iPhone's App Store, when the top charts were flooded with under-developed games, questionably useful utilities, and countless fart noise generators. Like then, many developers are rushing to get content -- any content -- onto a booming platform as quickly as they can.
The result? Lots and lots of filler that nobody actually needs and most people probably won't ever hear about, let alone use. Even the most intriguing of these skills struggle with visibility -- an inherent challenge when you're talking about voice apps. And, though it's seen some recent improvements like categories and search filters, the still-clunky Alexa Skills Store isn't doing them any favors.
Retention is another big problem. A recent report from VoiceLabs claims that, on average, there's only a 3 percent chance that a voice app's user will still be using that voice app one week after enabling it. It's a cloud that's increasingly filled with failures to launch.
Still, that's how popular marketplaces tend to work. Quantity is easy -- it's quality that's the tough part. To that end, Amazon is quick to point out that, "many skills have hundreds of reviews and are rated 4-star or higher by customers."
The only question is how long it will take to have 10,000 of those.
For tips, tricks and reviews from today's connected living space, head on over to the CNET Smart Home.
Looking for smart home gadgets that work with Alexa? Check out CNET's handy Smart Home Compatibility Tracker.
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