1000 skills: Amazon Alexa as a metaphor for the IoT developer community

If you haven’t heard about Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa, and its incarnation as the Echo consumer device, you should definitely check it out. Alexa is a centerpiece of Amazon’s Smart Home push, and quickly growing to become one of the most promising attempts at making a successful Smart Home hub, connecting all other devices around the house together. What’s more, Amazon has opened Alexa to developers, who can incorporate it in their own devices as well as add new functionality to the assistant, in the form of so-called Skills (services, integrations, or use cases). In the beginning of June, Amazon announced that over 1,000 Skills are now available on the Alexa platform.

But today, I want to talk not so much about Alexa’s merits as such, but use it as a metaphor for the IoT developer community. IoT developers, too, are in the process of gaining a proverbial 1,000 skills, and are growing fast to become the centerpiece of the IoT economy.

Like Alexa, the IoT developer community is seeing impressive early traction. The number of IoT developers is clocking in at over 5 million, and growing at almost a million developers per year. This said, both Alexa and the IoT community are still in the early stages, searching for their place in the world. In Alexa’s case, most recent reviews of the device still focus on: “what can I do with this thing?” Is it a speaker? Is it another Siri? The Skills store is still in its infancy, with little curation or discoverability. IoT developers, on their end, are still discovering what they can do with this flood of new IoT technology coming their way. VisionMobile’s IoT developer segmentation model groups developers in eight segments based on their key motivations to do IoT. A whopping 63% of IoT developers are either Hobbyists, developing for fun, or Explorers, learning the technology to put themselves in a good position to capture future opportunities. That percentage is much higher in IoT than in other sectors, like mobile or cloud.

By the way, Alexa has competition, too, in the form of Google Home, a device similar to Echo and powered by Google Now that the company announced in May, and Apple’s Siri, which it opened to developers at its WWDC event in June. The competition of such major platform players creates uncertainty about the future. The lack of clear leaders in the market is a key part of why developers are exploring – developers don’t want to commit to a platform just yet.

Back to Alexa, whose Skills are exploding – there is a 7x increase in Skills supply since January. IoT developers are also working hard at improving their skill set. The most important measure of success for IoT developers is how much knowledge and experience they have gained. Learning is the main goal for Explorers, representing almost a third of the developer population. But it goes far beyond that In a sense, all segments of IoT developers – not just Explorers – are still exploring opportunities and figuring out what their personal position in this space will be.

iot segmentation report

Amazon first goal is not to be a consumer electronics company. The e-commerce giant is in the habit of selling its devices at a price close to the cost of production. It gains instead from being on the first row – right in front of you – at the moment you decide you want to buy something. Likewise, most IoT developers are not in a rush to make bucketloads of money. They don’t prioritise making revenues straight away. As we said, learning is more important for a sense of success than how much money is made, how many users are reached, or how many costs are saved. On a personal level, culture and emotion play a huge role in the lives of developers; more so than business objectives.

Most IoT developers are Hobbyists and Explorers, learning is a key motivator, and business success is not (yet). If you run an IoT platform, developer tool, or API, or you’re marketing to IoT developers for any other reason, these insights might be counter-intuitive for you. If you want your product and messaging to resonate with IoT developers, it must match their current state of mind. In our new IoT Developer Segmentation report, we dive much deeper into our data from 4,400 IoT developers to provide you with an effective marketing tool that describes the causal motivators that drive developer decisions. Check it out!