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Amazon’s Alexa Is Getting Even Smarter

Alexa has been busy.

One year after Amazon opened up its personal digital assistant to developers, the disembodied voice of Echo, Dot, Tap and Fire TV can now perform more than 1,400 functions, or “skills” as the e-tailer prefers.

To mark the anniversary of its API skills kit, Amazon has updated the Alexa platform with new voice functionality and an improved mobile app. Now, users can add new skills to Alexa’s lexicon by merely voicing them (“Alexa, enable NBC News”) and, using the app, can browse all 1,400-plus capabilities by category, such as smart home or lifestyle.

Customers can also access previously-enabled skills online within a “Your Skills” section.

“We’re excited to introduce new features that make it even easier for customers to discover those skills,” said Amazon Alexa VP Steve Rabuchin.

He added that the pace of new skill additions is mushrooming, with the Alexa catalog growing by 50 percent in over one month.

Among other factoids:

• Since January, the selection of Alexa smart home API skills has grown more than five-fold.
• There are currently over 10,000 registered developers using the Alexa Voice Service to integrate Alexa into their products.
• Tens of thousands of third-party developers are currently working on Alexa projects.
• Customers have made over 3 million requests using the top 10 most popular Alexa skills.

According to the Alexa app, current customer favorites include Capital One banking; Venstar smart thermostat control; Magic 8-Ball; Home Control Assistant, for use with an HCA server; and 1-Minute Mindfulness, a 60-second sound meditation.

In addition, customers can now order tens of millions of Prime-eligible items by voice through its personal digital assistant — which had previously been limited to reorders and a pre-selected pool of recommended products under the Amazon’s Choice service.

Here’s how it works: After issuing the command “Alexa, order …,” the software will suggest a listing for the requested item that ships with Prime, will apply any available discounts, and then state the order total.

Replying “yes” completes the purchase, and anything bought through Alexa can be returned at no charge.

Alexa is the disembodied brain behind Amazon’s proprietary Echo, Dot and Tap wireless speakers, and has also been incorporated into its Fire TV streaming-media box and stick.

The new Alexa skill set, like the Dash push-button ordering system, is another way the e-commerce colossus is employing technology to encourage more purchases.

In other news, Amazon is bringing back its summertime Prime Day promotion, with a fury.

The one-day, Prime members-only event now promises more than 100,000 deals worldwide, making it Amazon’s biggest sales promotion ever. Set for July 12, the event will offer Prime members discounts across nearly all departments and product categories, “ensuring there will be something for everyone,” the e-tailer said.