Keeping Its Roots in Service: New Amazon SDK Gives Alexa Design Power to ODMs
As tech giants lean towards creating in-house hardware, Amazon releases a new software development kit that allows original device manufacturers (ODMs) to add Alexa services to any hardware device.
While many of the major tech companies in the world are software-focused, they all still harbor a heavy dependence on hardware. By and large, the major players such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon have a hardware presence with proprietary silicon, data center infrastructures, and consumer electronics (e.g., Amazon Alexa).
With that being said, in the case of Amazon, it is clear like the company still favors providing services and software over hardware. Recently, Amazon announced their new "Alexa Connect Kit" software development kit (ACK SDK), allowing external ODMs to build Alexa-enabled devices on their own hardware.
An example of ACK SDK is the Espressif development kit. Label D is the ACK module. Image used courtesy of Amazon
In this article, we’ll take a look at Amazon’s history of hardware, the new SDK, and what it might tell us about Amazon’s hardware future.
Amazon: Hardware or Software?
Though primarily a software company, Amazon is still no stranger to the world of hardware. The main leg of Amazon’s hardware is its consumer electronics.
One of its earliest forays into this world came with the introduction of the Kindle back in 2007. Since then, Amazon has produced several highly touted consumer electronics, most notably the Alexa line of products.
Its venture into hardware has culminated most recently with the announcement of Amazon Astro, a household, wheeled robot meant for home monitoring, security, and entertainment.
The Amazon Astro. Image used courtesy of Amazon
Beyond consumer electronics, Amazon has been heavily involved in data center hardware for a long time. Through its Amazon Web Services (AWS) branch, Amazon has worked since the early 2000s developing its own data center infrastructures, although mostly not on the silicon level.
Amazon Connect Kit
Recently, Amazon introduced its brand new ACK SDK.
This new ACK SDK was designed to allow outside hardware developers to support Alexa software on their devices. With ACK, software developers can access Alexa functionality without explicitly writing a new Alexa skill, managing a cloud service, or developing proprietary firmware to connect their device with Alexa services.
New ACK SDK framework. Image used courtesy of Amazon
From a hardware perspective, the new SDK is compatible with any Amazon-qualified system-on-chip (SoC). Alternatively, designers can apply to get other, non-qualified, SoCs to be made compatible with the ACK SDK.
Amongst many others, some products that have already been developed with the ACK SDK include:
- An Alexa-enabled smart dimmer from Eaton
- An Alexa-enabled smart Coffee Maker from Hamilton Beach
- An Alexa-enable smart Christmas Tree by Mr. Christmas
A Hardware Future?
From the lens of a consumer electronics company, this move by Amazon might be confusing. That is: why would Amazon allow outside companies to create Alexa-based products instead of keeping everything in-house and controlled?
One reason for this may be that Amazon is historically, and currently, a service and software provider before anything else.
Services, be it AWS or the Amazon marketplace, have always been Amazon’s bread and butter, selling hardware being an afterthought.
By providing an SDK for Alexa, Amazon holds true to this philosophy while also expanding the Alexa ecosystem outside of just Amazon products.
This movement indicates that, unlike other tech giants Google, Apple, and Facebook, Amazon is less interested in building a line of consumer electronics in-house. Instead, the company is staying true to its roots and prioritizing services and software first and foremost.