“Hey Alexa, I think it’s about time you roll out in Canada. Don’t you agree?”
Amazon unveiled a slew of Canadian announcements today, with their virtual assistant Alexa acting as the common denominator.
Firstly, the Alexa Skills Kit and Alexa Voice Service is now available to Canadian developers. Second, Amazon Canada has launched their Prime Music service in the country. Finally, the Echo, Echo Dot and the Echo Plus are officially available in Canada now, along with a country-optimized Alexa.
Up until today, Canadians could still order and own an Echo, Echo Dot or Echo Plus, but Alexa—the brain behind those devices—was not set up to properly integrate with services and features specific to Canada.
Amazon has been slowly integrating voice services relating to Canada over the past few months in the lead up to this launch. The Echo began accepting Canadian addresses as device locations in the middle of August, while local broadcasters like the Weather Network and Global News were added to the platform’s flash briefings feature in the summer as well.
All throughout the summer and into the fall, Amazon has been hiring Alexa developers in their Canadian offices, mainly in Ottawa.
The Alexa launch in Canada means a new English voice (with a Canadian accent to boot, eh!) as well as local knowledge and skills. There’s integration with Air Canada, TD Bank, CBC, Aviva, theScore, The Yellow Pages and more, with over 10,000 total skills now available to Canadians.
“Tens of millions of customers are already using Alexa, and today we’re excited to bring her to Canada with an experience designed from the ground up for our Canadian customers,” said Tom Taylor, senior VP of Amazon Alexa.
Amazon’s Prime Music service also came to Canada today. Subscribers to Prime can now stream over one million songs as well as access personalized stations and playlists. Users can access the service online or through the Amazon Music app.
Prime Music is another benefit provided to Prime subscribers, who also enjoy free shipping on Amazon products as well as access to the company’s video streaming service. Prime subscribers are the company’s bread and butter, and it’s apparent that Amazon is doing all they can to woo potential customers into subscriptions. They are even rumoured to be offering an ad-supported free video service, meant to bridge the gap between non-subscribers and paying customers.
Alexa is also designed to work with Prime Music seamlessly, as users can vocally request playlists, top songs from an artist, or just a general genre like “relaxing pop music.”
“Music plays such an important role in our customers’ lives, and we’re excited to provide an even better Prime experience for Canada with the launch of Prime Music,” said Mike Strauch, country manager for Amazon Canada.
In terms of the hardware customers can access Alexa on, the Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Plus are all designed to work together and create a smart home experience for users. The Echo Plus acts as a hub to easily connect smart devices, while the Echo and Echo Dot are meant to be placed in different rooms in a home so a user can always chat with Alexa at any given point.
This could be just the beginning of Alexa integration for Canada, as Amazon also released the developer kits so Canadian companies and programmers can create voice-enabled experiences on-demand.
“Our philosophy from day one was to make it as easy as possible for developers to create voice experiences with Alexa that reach customers in a totally new way,” said Steve Rabuchin, VP at Amazon Alexa. “Tens of thousands of developers are already building innovative Alexa skills and Alexa-enabled products. We are excited to expand our tools to enable developers around the world to reach Alexa customers in Canada.”
The Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) is a collection of free APIs and tools that enable developers to create new capabilities for Alexa. These Canadian creators can now add to the platform and reach audiences around the world. Developers don’t even need to be experts in natural language processing or speech recognition to build a skill.
As an example, TD Bank used the developer kit to build a skill relating to how Canadians can interact with the organization. Customers can ask about exchange rates, nearest bank branches, or simply inquire about products and services. TELUS built a skill allowing their customers to make calls through Alexa and check things like billing information and data usage.
The Alexa Voice Service enables developers to integrate Alexa directly into their products, meaning any connected device can potentially have voice control now. Through the system, device makers can add an intelligent interface to their products and give customers access to Alexa. Canadian smart thermostat company ecobee took advantage and launched their new product with built-in Alexa support today.
It has been a busy day for Amazon and Alexa, and there will no doubt me even more voice-integrated services coming to the Canadian market soon. The company recently announced 1,000 new jobs in Vancouver and it is no doubt many of those will involve improving Alexa for Canadian audiences.