Amazon opens up in-skill purchases to all Alexa developers

Amazon today launched in-skill purchasing to all Alexa developers. That means developers have a way to generate revenue from their voice applications on Alexa-powered devices, like Amazon’s Echo speakers. For example, developers could charge for additional packs to go along with their voice-based games, or offer other premium content to expand their free voice app experience.

The feature was previously announced in November 2017, but was only available at the time to a small handful of voice app developers, like Jeopardy!, plus other game publishers.

When in-skill purchasing is added to a voice application – Amazon calls these apps Alexa’s “skills” – customers can ask to shop the purchase suggestions offered, and then pay by voice using the payment information already associated with their Amazon account.

Developers are in control of what content is offered at which price, but Amazon will handle the actual purchasing flow. It also offers self-serve tools to help developers manage their in-skill purchases and optimize their sales.

While any Alexa device owner can buy the available in-skill purchases, Amazon Prime members will get the best deal.

Amazon says that in-skill purchases must offer some sort of value-add for Prime subscribers, like a discounted price, exclusive content or early access. Developers are paid 70 percent of the list price for their in-skill purchase, before any Amazon discount is applied.

Already, Sony’s Jeopardy!, Teen Jeopardy!, Sports Jeopardy!; The Ellen Show’s Heads Up; Fremantle’s Match Game; HISTORY’s Ultimate HISTORY Quiz, and TuneIn Live, have launched Alexa skills with premium content.

To kick off today’s launch of general availability, Amazon is announcing a handful of others who will do the same. This includes NBCU’s SYFY WIRE, which will offer three additional weekly podcasts exclusive to Alexa (Geeksplain, Debate Club, and Untold Story); Volley Inc.’s Yes Sire, which offers an expansion pack for its role-playing game; and Volley Inc.’s Word of the Day, which will soon add new vocabulary packs to purchase.

In-skill purchases is only one of the ways that Amazon offers a way for developers to generate revenue.

The company is also now offering a way for brands and merchants to sell products and services (like event tickets or flower delivery) through Alexa, using Amazon Pay for Alexa Skills. And it’s been paying top developers directly through its Developer Rewards program, which is an attempt to seed the ecosystem with skills ahead of a more robust system for skill monetization.

The news was announced alongside an update on Alexa’s skill ecosystem, which has 40,000 skills available, up from 25,000 last December.

However, the ecosystem today has a very long tail. Many of the skills are those with few or even no users, or just represent apps from those toying around with voice app development. Research on how customers are actually engaging with their voice devices has shown that generally, people are largely using them for things like news and information, smart home control, and setting timers and reminders – not necessarily things that require voice apps.

 

GitLab gets a native integration with Google’s Kubernetes Engine

GitLab, one of the most popular self-hosted Git services, has been on a bit of a roll lately. Barely two weeks after launching its integration with GitHub, the company today announced that developers on its platform can now automatically spin up a cluster on Google’s Kubernetes Engine (GKE) and deploy their applications to it with just a few clicks.

To build this feature, the company collaborated with Google, but this integration also makes extensive use of GitLab’s existing Auto DevOps tools, which already offers a similar functionality for working with containers. Auto DevOps aims to take all the grunt work out of setting up CI/CD pipelines and deploying to containers.

“Before the GKE integration, GitLab users needed an in-depth understanding of Kubernetes to manage their own clusters,” said GitLab CEO Sid Sijbrandij in today’s announcement. “With this collaboration, we’ve made it simple for our users to set up a managed deployment environment on [Google Cloud Platform] and leverage GitLab’s robust Auto DevOps capabilities.”

To make use of the GKE integration, developers only have to connect to their Google accounts from GitLab. Since GKE automatically manages the cluster, developers will ideally be able to fully focus on writing their application and leave the deployment and management to GitLab and Google.

These new features, which are part of the GitLab 10.6 release are now available to all GitLab users.

 

App Store shrank for first time in 2017 thanks to crackdowns on spam, clones and more

The App Store shrank for the first time in 2017, according to a new report from Appfigures. The report found the App Store lost 5 percent of its total apps over the course of the year, dropping from 2.2 million iOS apps in the beginning of the year, to 2.1 million by year-end.

Google Play, meanwhile, grew in 2017 – it was up 30% to more than 3.6 million apps.

Appfigures speculated the changes had to do with a combination of factors, including stricter enforcement of Apple’s review guidelines, along with a technical change requiring app developers to update their apps to the 64-bit architecture.

Apple had also promised back in 2016 that it would clean up its iOS App Store by removing outdated, abandoned apps, including those that no longer met current guidelines or didn’t function as intended. That cleanup may have well stretched into 2017, as app store intelligence firms only started seeing the effects in late 2016. For example, there was a spike in app removals back in October 2016.

Then in 2017, Apple went after clones and spam apps on the App Store. Combined with those apps that weren’t 64-compatible and those that hadn’t been downloaded in years, the removals reached into the hundreds of thousands over a twelve month period. Apple later went after template-based apps, too, before dialing back its policies over concerns it was impacting small businesses ability to compete on the App Store.

To see the App Store shrink, given these clear-outs, isn’t necessarily surprising. However, Appfigures found that removals of existing apps weren’t the only cause. iOS developers weren’t releasing as many apps as they had during the growth years, it also claims.

Android developers launched 17 percent more apps in 2017 to reach 1.5 million total new releases. But iOS developers launched just 755,00 new apps – a 29 percent drop and the largest drop since 2008.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean developers weren’t creating as many iOS app – it could mean that Apple’s review team has gotten tougher about how many apps it allows in. Thanks to the spam and clone app crackdown, fewer apps of questionable quality are being approved these days.

In addition, some portion of the new Android app releases during the year were iOS apps being ported to the Google Play platform. More than twice as many apps came to Android on 2017, than Android apps coming to iOS, the report said.

The full report also developed into the numbers of cross-platform apps (450K are on both stores), the most popular non-native tools (Cordova and Unity), the rise in native development, the countries shipping the most apps (U.S. followed by China), and the Play Store’s growth.

It can be viewed here.

 

Facebook opens Instant Games to all developers

Facebook’s Instant Games are now open to all developers, Facebook announced this week in advance of the Game Developers Conference. First launched in 2016, the platform lets developers build mobile-friendly games using HTML5 that work on both Facebook and Messenger, instead of requiring users to download native apps from Apple or Google’s app stores.

The Instant Games platform kicked off its launch a couple of years ago with 17 games from developers like Bandai Namco, Konami, Taito, Zynga and King, who offered popular titles like Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Words with Friends. The following year, the platform had grown to 50 titles and became globally available. But it wasn’t open to all – only select partners.

In addition to getting users to spend more time on Facebook’s platform, Instant Games provides Facebook with the potential for new revenue streams now that Facebook is moving into game monetization.

In October, Facebook said it would begin to test interstitial and rewarded video ads, as well as in-app purchases. The tools were only available to select developers on what was then an otherwise closed platform for Facebook’s gaming partners.

Now, says Facebook, all developers can build Instant Games as the platform exits its beta testing period.

Alongside this week’s public launch, Facebook introduced a handful of new features to help developers grow, measure and monetize their games.

This includes the launch of the ads API, which was also previously in beta.

In-app purchases, however, are continuing to be tested.

Developers will also have access to Facebook’s Monetization Manager, where they can track manage ads and track how well ad placements are performing; as well as a Game Switch API for cross-promoting games across the platform, or creating deep links that work outside Facebook and Messenger.

Facebook says it also updated how its ranking algorithm surfaces games based on users’ recent play and interests, and updated its in-game leaderboards, among other things.

Soon, Instant Game developers will be able to build ad campaigns in order to acquire new players from Facebook. These new ad units, when clicked, will take players directly into the game where they can begin playing. 

Since last year, Facebook Instant Games have grown to nearly 200 titles, but the company isn’t talking in-depth about their performance from a revenue perspective.

It did offer one example of a well-performing title, Basketball FRVR, which is on track to make over 7-digits in ad revenue annually, and has been played over 4.2 billion times.

With the public launch, Facebook is offering Instant Games developer documentation page and a list of recommended HTML5 game engines to help developers get started. Developers can then build and submit games via Facebook’s App page.

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