Amazon woos Alexa developers with free AWS services
The Amazon Echo speaker

Amazon woos Alexa developers with free AWS services

Cloud giant Amazon makes bid for developer mindshare with offer of promotional credits for AWS cloud storage and computing services to support new Alexa skills.

Amazon has launched a new programme that the company claims will make it free for “tens of thousands” of developers to build Alexa skills using Amazon Web Services (AWS).

An Alexa skill is a chunk of function built by a developer that allows Amazon’s Alexa-powered Dot and Echo speakers to support specific use cases – the voice equivalent of an app, in effect.

For example, Fitbit’s Alexa skill enables users of its fitness tracking devices to ask an Amazon Echo speaker about their weight, steps taken, sleep tracking and get responses. Capital One’s Alexa skill enables banking customers to use voice commands to check balances and transactions and make credit card payments.

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10,000 skills and counting

In January, Amazon announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas that over 7,000 Alexa skills had been built, by both large companies (as in the examples above) as well as independent developers – a seven-fold increase in seven months. By late February, the number had risen to over 10,000, according to the company.

Now, Amazon is offering $100 promotional credits that will make it free for developers to host and build most Alexa skills on AWS Lambda, its cloud-based development platform and runtime environment for third-party software.

Already, many Alexa skill developers take advantage of the AWS Free Tier, which offers them one million AWS Lambda requests and up to 750 hours of Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) compute time per month at no charge. However, if they exceed these limits, they are liable for AWS usage fees each month. These new promotional credits, by contrast, are designed to cover the additional cloud storage and computing costs they incur.

“There is already a large community of incredibly engaged developers building skills for Alexa,” said Steve Rabuchin, vice president of Amazon Alexa. “Today, we’re excited to announce a new programme that will free up developers to create more robust and unique skills that can take advantage of AWS services. We can’t wait to see what developers create for Alexa.”

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Removing barriers to more popular Alexa skills

In other words, this is the company’s way of removing price barriers and encouraging developers to build more sophisticated skills without worrying about the costs involved if a particular skill goes on to be a big hit with Alexa users. It could also prove a useful weapon for Amazon in its ongoing battle for developer mindshare with rival Google.

“Developers already know that building for Alexa is free using AWS Free Tier with AWS Lambda – but what they can’t plan for is how successful their skill will be,” said Ryan Kroonenburg, a UK-based developer and the founder of A Cloud Guru, a training community on AWS, which recently introduced courses on creating Alexa skills.

“This programme not only allows developers to create robust skills that use AWS services without worrying about costs, but also ensures that popular skills that hit more than one million calls per month are cost-effective to maintain. It’s a big benefit for the Alexa skills developer community.”

The programme isn’t open to all, however: developers must already have at least one skill live for Alexa in order to apply for the credit programme. The credits involve a one-time $100 AWS credit valid for 12 months, plus an additional $100 recurring credit allocated on a monthly basis for developers who incur skill-related AWS charges exceeding the initial $100 promotional credit.

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