Amazon's Alexa digital assistant has mad skills; more than 1000 of them, actually

Third-party developers are rushing to capitalize on Amazon's efforts to make it easy for them to tap into its cloud-based Alexa Voice Service.

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Alexa is one of the most powerful virtual assistants available, with Amazon saying Friday that the Alexa platform has surpassed 1000 skills. With a variety of features ranging from hailing an Uber to ordering a pizza from Domino’s, it seems like Amazon is preparing to defend its turf ahead of the pending release of Google Home and Apple’s rumored Echo-like device.

Amazon opened up its Alexa platform to third-party developers last June, and in a manner that was much more open than its competitors. While there are rumors that Apple will open up Siri to third-party developers ahead of a shipping an Echo-like product of its own, and Siri, Cortana, and Google Now all have at least limited third-party support, Amazon in unique in the way it has opened Alexa to rapid third-party development without subjecting those developers to heavy oversight.

Banks like Capital One signed on to make banking available through Alexa, while fitness tracker Fitbit uses the Alexa platform to give you a little more motivation to meet fitness goals. It’s not always a error-free experience—for example, Capital One’s credit card payment feature was a little buggy for us in testing—but it will only get better with time.

Alexa also added new functionality over the past year from Domino’s, Kayak, Uber, and smart-home platforms like Wink and SmartThings. With the Vivint smart-home system and one of Amazon's Echo devices, you can ask Alexa to set your thermostat, lock your doors, dim your lights, close your garage door, and more. There’s even a third-party device called the Triby with Alexa smarts, which we reviewed last month.

“We’re excited about the 1000 skills that are already available, and can’t wait to see what developers create with the next ten thousand,” Amazon’s Alexa director Rob Pulciani says.

Why this matters: Amazon is wise to avoid trapping its customers in a walled garden, where buyers of its Echo products can use them only to control other Amazon products. While there is some risk of losing control over the quality of the consumer experience, there is much to gain from allowing third parties to tap into Alexa's powers. Here's hoping Amazon's success spurs Google, Apple, and Microsoft to innovate even more to keep up. 

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