Businesses jump on Amazon’s Alexa after Australian launch date revealed

Amazon opens pre-orders for Echo devices

Australian businesses have jumped on Amazon’s Alexa, unveiling ‘skills’ built for the voice-driven virtual assistant.

Amazon revealed this morning that three Alexa-enabled, voice-controlled speakers — Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Plus — are available for pre-order in Australia. The devices will begin shipping in early February. In addition to being sold via Amazon.com.au, they are available from Myer, JB Hi-Fi, Officeworks and Telstra.

The cloud-powered Alexa service can perform a range of tasks in response to spoken queries, such as answer questions, read news headlines, play music, make calls and control Wi-Fi and Zigbee connected smart home devices.

Third-party developers can enhance the system’s abilities through the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK). According to Amazon, more than 10,000 skills are currently available in Australia.

Major Australian companies supporting the platform include Qantas, NAB, Westpac, EnergyAustralia and AGL.

Westpac said that the ‘Westpac Banking Skill’ will let customers check their account balance, recent spending history, and reward points status using Alexa. Customers will also be able to obtain a financial market update.

“We know our customers want a seamless banking experience that fits with their needs and complements their lifestyles,” said Westpac chief executive, consumer bank, George Frazis.

“As more people adopt innovative voice-activated technologies in an increasingly mobile world, we are excited to be one of the leaders in this space providing secure, easy to use, cutting edge banking services for our customers.”

NAB said that customers with an Alexa-enabled device will be able to retrieve a range of information about their accounts.

“Our skill for Amazon Alexa devices provides a secure connection between the device and a customer’s internet banking account, allowing them the convenience to manage their money,” said NAB executive general manager, digital and innovation, Jonathan Davey.

The bank last year unveiled a ‘Talk to NAB’ app for Google Assistant.

Customers of ASX-listed telco Amaysim will be able to trigger a call to their mobile phone using Alexa in order to help them find where they have left their handset.

The telco worked with DiUS to build a skill for the platform. Customers will also be able to manage a range of account services, Amaysim said.

“Conversational interfaces will become ubiquitous in Australian homes within the next two to years,” said Amaysim innovation product manager Tariq Hassanen.

“Alexa allows amaysim to engage with our customers in a more natural way when it comes to account information and other useful services. We are planning to work together with our customers to shape future conversations using Alexa.”

“Voice is without a doubt the next big technology trend,” said Seek’s ANZ managing director, Michael Ilczynski.

The online employment service said it had launched a trio of skills for Alexa. Users will be able to search for jobs, get company ratings and receive employment market updates.

“Being one of the first brands in the country to develop Alexa skills gives Seek an opportunity to experiment with what type of career content resonates with users through voice search technology,” Ilczynski said.

AGL and EnergyAustralia are both releasing services for Alexa.

“The EnergyAustralia skill for Alexa gives people easy access to every aspect of their energy account,” EnergyAustralia NextGen executive Andrew Perry said.

“Initially customers can stay across the status of their bill and when it’s due with a simple voice command.”

“Over time we’ll add services, like the ability to call up data on how much energy a household is using and when,” Perry said. “It’s information that puts customers in the driver’s seat by helping them manage their energy consumption.”

REA Group said realestate.com.au would provide a “flash briefing of daily property news” using Alexa.

“It’s still early days for having conversations with your technology, but we’re continuing to discover new ways to adapt and integrate that into our daily lives,” said REA Group chief inventor Nigel Dalton.

“We’ve started with voice-powered news content to see how consumers respond, and will be using these insights to create an even more immersive AI experience.”

Airtasker, Hipages and taste.com.au, Village Roadshow and Dominos are among the other companies to offer skills.