Amazon virtually kills efforts to develop Alexa Skills, disappointing dozens
4 mins read

Amazon virtually kills efforts to develop Alexa Skills, disappointing dozens

disincentives —

Most devs would need to pay out of pocket to host Alexa apps after June.

amazon echo dot gen 4

Enlarge / The 4th-gen Amazon Echo Dot smart speaker.


Alexa hasn’t worked out the way Amazon originally planned.

There was a time when it thought that Alexa would yield a robust ecosystem of apps, or Alexa Skills, that would make the voice assistant an integral part of users’ lives. Amazon envisioned tens of thousands of software developers building valued abilities for Alexa that would grow the voice assistant’s popularity—and help Amazon make some money.

But about seven years after launching a rewards program to encourage developers to build Skills, Alexa’s most preferred abilities are the basic ones, like checking the weather. And on June 30, Amazon will stop giving out the monthly Amazon Web Services credits that have made it free for third-party developers to build and host Alexa Skills. The company also recently told devs that its Alexa Developer Rewards program was ending, virtually disincentivizing third-party devs to build for Alexa.

Death knell for third-party Alexa apps

The news has left dozens of Alexa Skills developers wondering if they have a future with Alexa, especially as Amazon preps a generative AI and subscription-based version of Alexa. “Dozens” may sound like a dig at Alexa’s ecosystem, but it’s an estimation based on a podcast from Skills developers Mark Tucker and Allen Firstenberg, who, in a recent podcast, agreed that “dozens” of third-party devs were contemplating if it’s still worthwhile to develop Alexa skills. The casual summary wasn’t stated as a hard fact or confirmed by Amazon but, rather, seemed like a rough and quick estimation based on the developers’ familiarity with the Skills community. But with such minimal interest and money associated with Skills, dozens isn’t an implausible figure either.

Amazon admitted that there’s little interest in its Skills incentives programs. Bloomberg reported that “fewer than 1 percent of developers were using the soon-to-end programs,” per Amazon spokesperson Lauren Raemhild.

“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,” she told the publication.

The writing on the wall, though, is that Amazon doesn’t have the incentive or money to grow the Alexa app ecosystem it once imagined. Voice assistants largely became money pits, and the Alexa division has endured recent layoffs as it fights for survival and relevance. Meanwhile, Google Assistant stopped using third-party apps in 2022.

“Many developers are now going to need to make some tough decisions about maintaining existing or creating future experiences on Alexa,” Tucker said via a LinkedIn post.

Alexa Skills criticized as “useless”

As of this writing, the top Alexa skills, in order, are: Jeopardy, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, and Calm. That’s not exactly a futuristic list of must-have technological feats. For years, people have wondered when the “killer app” would come to catapult Alexa’s popularity. But now it seems like Alexa’s only hope at that killer use case is generative AI (a gamble filled with its own obstacles).

But like Amazon, third-party developers found it hard to make money off Skills, with a rare few pointing to making thousands of dollars at most and the vast majority not making anything.

“If you can’t make money off it, no one’s going to seriously engage,” Joseph “Jo” Jaquinta, a developer who had made over 12 Skills, told CNET in 2017.

By 2018, Amazon had paid developers millions to grow Alexa Skills. But by 2020, Amazon reduced the amount of money it paid out to third-party developers, an anonymous source told Bloomberg, The source noted that the apps made by paid developers weren’t making the company much money. Come 2024, the most desirable things you can make Alexa do remain basic tasks, like playing a song and apparently trivia games.

Amazon hasn’t said it’s ending Skills. That would seem premature considering that its Alexa chatbot isn’t expected until June. Developers can still make money off Skills with in-app purchases, but the incentive is minimal.

“Developers like you have and will play a critical role in the success of Alexa, and we appreciate your continued engagement,” Amazon’s notice to devs said, per Bloomberg.

We’ll see how “critical” Amazon treats those remaining developers once its generative AI chatbot is ready.