Amazon launches a certification program for Alexa skill developers

Developers building voice-enabled applications for Amazon Echo and other Alexa-powered devices will now have a new way to validate their abilities, with Amazon’s launch of a new AWS Certified Alexa Skill Builder – Specialty certification. This is the first time Amazon has offered a certification program for Alexa developers, the company says.

Certification programs are standard in the technology industry — and AWS already offers a training program and certifications of its own that allow organizations to identify professionals with cloud expertise and an understanding of AWS.

The new Alexa certification will be a specialty within the AWS program, and will validate those with an understanding of all aspects of Alexa voice app development.

This includes the more practical matters — like how to develop, test, validate and troubleshoot skills, the use of the Alexa Developer Console, how to manage skill operations and life cycles, and more. But it will also get into more high-level concepts, like the “value of voice” and how a voice user experience should flow — something that many Alexa developers today still seem to struggle with.

To get started, developers can review a new exam guide, which helps them learn about Alexa skill building through tutorials, technical documentation and more. Amazon is also making self-paced training courses available online.

When ready, developers aiming to get certified can create an AWS Training account and schedule their exam.

The goal, says Amazon, is to open up “more opportunities to build engaging voice experiences” that can reach customers across the more than 100 million Alexa-enabled devices on the market today.

In other words, Amazon wants those Alexa developers dabbling with skill building to learn not only the basics, but also the industry best practices — then use this knowledge to create more skills that will actually resonate with customers.

The certification program arrives at a time when smart speakers have hit critical mass in the U.S., but the ecosystem of third-party skills has not had its “app store moment” with a breakout hit, as Bloomberg recently noted.

Arguably, music, timers and smart home controls are the breakout hits for smart speakers, but these are native functions. It’s unclear how many of Alexa’s 80K+ third-party skills have a long-term future if consumer adoption continues to struggle.

In the meantime, however, businesses are still keen on the platform, given the sizable installed base for Alexa. Every day, some organization is announcing the launch of its skill. (Today, for example, it’s the Red Cross.)

“The demand from organizations for skilled professionals who can build skills for emerging voice-enabled workloads is increasing,” says Kevin Kelly, director, AWS Certification and Education Programs, in a statement. “This new certification validates those skills with the only credential in the industry focused on Alexa skill building,” he added.

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Google gives Android developers new tools to make money from users who won’t pay

Google today is introducing a new way for Android developers to generate revenue from their mobile applications. And no, it’s not subscription-related. Instead, the company is launching a new monetization option for apps called “Rewarded Products.” This will allow non-paying app users to contribute to an app’s revenue stream by sacrificing their time, but not their money. The first product will be rewarded video, where users can opt to watch a video ad in exchange for in-game currency, virtual goods, or other benefits.

The feature may make developers happy, but it remains to be seen how users react. Reception will depend on how the videos are introduced in the app.

Even in Google’s example of the rewarded product in action – meant to showcase a best design practice, one would think – the video interrupts gameplay in between levels with a full screen takeover. This is not a scenario users would respond well to unless this was presented as the only way to play a popular, previously paid-only game for free, perhaps.

Rewarded video has worked for some apps where users have come to expect a free product. That could include free-to-play games or others services where subscribing is an option, not a requirement.

For example, Pandora’s music streaming service was free and ad-supported for years, as it was radio-only. After it introduced tiers offering on-demand streaming to compete with Spotify, it rolled out a rewarded video product – so to speak – of its own. Today, Pandora listeners can choose to watch a video ad to access on-demand music for a session, as an alternative to paying a monthly subscription.

Android app developers, of course, are already using advertisements to supplement or as a means of monetization, but this launch creates an official Google Play “product.” This makes implementation easier on developers and gives Google a way compete with third parties offering something similar.

Rewarded products can be added to any app using the Google Play Billing Library or AIDL interface with only a few additional API calls, the company says. It won’t require an SDK.

The launch comes at a time when Apple has been seeing success with subscriptions, which it has fully embraced, pushed and sometimes even let run amok. Subscriptions are now one of the biggest factors, outside of games, in app store revenue growth.

But Android users, historically, have been more averse to paying for apps than those on iOS. Apple’s store has even seen nearly double that of Google Play, in terms of revenue – despite having far fewer downloads. That means Android developers will not be able to tap into the subscription craze at the same scale as their iOS counterparts. And it means cross-platform developers may further prioritize building for iOS, as a result.

Rewarded products offer those developers an alternative path to monetization on a platform where that’s often been more difficult, outside of running ads.

Google says the rewarded video product is launching into open beta, and is available in the Play Console for developers.

 

 


Android – TechCrunch

Chinese app developers have invaded India

If you’ve conquered China, then India — the world’s second-largest country based on population — is the obvious next port of call, and that’s exactly what has happened in the world of consumer apps.

Following the lead of Chinese smartphone makers like Xiaomi and Oppo, who have dominated mobile sales in India for some time, the content behind the touchscreen glass in India is increasingly now from China, too. That’s according to a report from FactorDaily which found that 44 of the top 100 Android apps in India were developed by Chinese companies up from just 18 one year prior. (The focus is on Android because it is the overwhelming choice of operating system among India’s estimated 500 million internet users.)

The list of top Chinese apps includes major names like ByteDance, the world’s highest-valued startup which offers TikTok and local language news app Helo in India, and Alibaba’s UCbrowser as well as lesser-known quantities like Tencent-backed NewsDog and quiet-yet-prolific streaming app maker Bigo.

Citing data from Sensor Tower, the report found that five of the top ten Android apps in India are from China, up from just two at the end of 2017.

For anyone who has been watching the Indian technology scene in recent years, this ‘Chinese app store invasion’ will be of little surprise, although the speed of change has been unexpected.

China’s two biggest companies, Alibaba and Tencent, have poured significant amounts into promising Indian startups in recent years setting the stage for others to follow suit and move into India in search of growth.

Alibaba bought into Snapdeal and Paytm via multi-hundred million dollar invests in 2015, and the pace has only quickened since then. In 2017, Tencent invested in Gaana (music streaming) and Swiggy (food delivery) in major deals having backed Byju’s (education) and Ola (ride-hailing) the year prior. The pair also launched local cloud computing services inside India last year.

Beyond those two, Xiaomi has gone beyond selling phones to back local companies and develop local services for its customers.

That local approach appears to have been the key for those app makers who have found success in India. Rather than taking a very rigid approach like Chinese messaging app WeChat — owned by Tencent which failed in India — the likes of ByteDance have developed local teams and, in some cases, entirely local apps dedicated to India. With the next hundreds of millions of internet users in India tipped to come from more rural parts of the country, vernacular languages, local content and voice-enabled tech are some of the key strategies that, like their phone-making cousins, Chinese app developers will need to focus on to ensure that they aren’t just a flash in the pan in India.

You can read more at FactorDaily.


Android – TechCrunch

Amazon debuts a scale model autonomous car to teach developers machine learning

Amazon today announced AWS DeepRacer, a fully autonomous 1/18th-scale race car that aims to help developers learn machine learning. Priced at $ 399 but currently offered for $ 249, the race car lets developers get hands-on — literally — with a machine learning technique called reinforcement learning (RL).

RL takes a different approach to training models than other machine learning techniques, Amazon explained.

It’s a type of machine learning that works when an “agent” is allowed to act on a trial-and-error basis within an interactive environment. It does so using feedback from those actions to learn over time in order to reach a predetermined goal or to maximize some type of score or reward.

This makes it different from other machine learning techniques — like Supervised Learning, for example — as it doesn’t require any labeled training data to get started, and it can make short-term decisions while optimizing for a long-term goal.

The new race car lets developers experiment with RL by learning through autonomous driving.

Developers first get started using a virtual car and tracks in a cloud-based 3D racing simulator, powered by AWS RoboMaker. Here, they can train an autonomous driving model against a collection of predefined race tracks included with the simulator, then evaluate them virtually or choose to download them to the real-world AWS DeepRacer car.

They can also opt to participate in the first AWS DeepRacer League at the re:Invent conference, where the car was announced. This event will take place over the next 24 hours in the AWS DeepRacer workshops and at the MGM Speedway and will involve using Amazon SageMakerAWS RoboMaker and other AWS services.

There are six main tracks, each with a pit area, a hacker garage and two extra tracks developers can use for training and experimentation. There will also be a DJ.

The league will continue after the event, as well, with a series of live racing events starting in 2019 at AWS Global Summits worldwide. Virtual tournaments will also be hosted throughout the year, Amazon said, with the goal of winning the AWS DeepRacer 2019 Championship Cup at re:invent 2019.

As for the car’s hardware itself, it’s a 1/18th-scale, radio-controlled, four-wheel drive vehicle powered by an Intel Atom processor. The processor runs Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, ROS (Robot Operating System) and the Intel OpenVino computer vision toolkit.

The car also includes a 4 megapixel camera with 1080p resolution, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, multiple USB ports and battery power that will last for about two hours.

It’s available for sale on Amazon here.

more AWS re:Invent 2018 coverage

Gadgets – TechCrunch

Apple’s iMac Pro is a love letter to developers

Apple iMac Pro he iMac Pro exists because it turns out that there is a lot of air underneath the aging Mac Pro and above the incredibly popular MacBook Pro. A single-digit percentage of Mac customers buy the Mac Pro and, in recent years, Apple had been seeing a major rise in “pro” customers of all shades purchasing iMacs because of their incredible screens, all-in-one form factor and overall ease… Read More

Gadgets – TechCrunch