Amazon to Stop Paying Developers to Create Apps For Alexa

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(Bloomberg) — Inc. will no longer pay developers to create applications for Alexa, scrapping a key element of the company’s effort to build a flourishing app store for its voice-activated digital assistant.

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Amazon recently told participants of the Alexa Developer Rewards Program, which cut monthly checks to builders of popular Alexa apps, that the offering would end at the end of June.

“Developers like you have and will play a critical role in the success of Alexa and we appreciate your continued engagement,” said the notice, which was reviewed by Bloomberg. Amazon is also winding down a program that offered free credits for Alexa developers to power their programs with Amazon Web Services, according to a notice posted on a company website.

Despite losing the direct payments, developers can still monetize their efforts with in-app purchases.

Alexa, which powers Echo smart speakers and other devices, helped popularize voice assistants when it debuted almost a decade ago, letting users summon weather and news reports, play games and more.

The company has since sold millions of Alexa-powered gadgets, but the technology appears far from the cutting-edge amid an explosion in chatbots using generative artificial intelligence. Amazon is working to add more generative AI capabilities to the software.

Seattle-based Amazon invited software developers to create their own applications, called Skills, and began paying those who met certain usage or other thresholds in 2017.

Developers flocked to Alexa, but many efforts, especially from big companies or brands seeking a way to advertise, didn’t advance beyond limited experiments. Browsing for applications via voice is cumbersome, and many Alexa users rarely try to use the assistant for anything more complicated than trivia or playing music. Smartphones handle many tasks more quickly and capably.

Amazon started reducing the pool of money available for the direct payments in 2020, a move that coincided with directives to stem Alexa’s losses and find new sources of revenue, according to a person familiar with the matter. The apps created by paid developers, most of them small and independent, generally weren’t generating much money for Amazon, said the person, who requested anonymity to discuss internal company details.

Alphabet Inc.’s Google, which invested heavily in its own voice-activated Assistant, removed third-party voice apps entirely in 2022, encouraging developers to add voice capabilities to Android smartphone apps instead.

“These are older programs launched back in 2017 as a way to help newer developers interested in building skills accelerate their progress,” Amazon spokesperson Lauren Raemhild said in an emailed statement, adding that fewer than 1% of developers were using the soon-to-end programs. “Today, with over 160,000 skills available for customers and a well-established Alexa developer community, these programs have run their course, and we decided to sunset them.”

Mark Tucker, an early Alexa developer and enthusiast, called the move the end of an era. “Many developers are now going to need to make some tough decisions about maintaining existing or creating future experiences on Alexa,” he said in a post on LinkedIn.

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