Publication Date: 5/8/17 – PC World and numerous other outlets are reporting on Microsoft’s bid to take on Amazon’s Echo with their Harmon-Kardon powered smart speaker, the Invoke. Microsoft has been soliciting independent devs to join its Cortana skills beta for a couple of months, but unfortunately for developers it appears the first Cortana skills will be free.
Good News For Amazon, Bad News For Skill Devs
If you go to the Cortana skill developer sign-up page you’ll notice that while Microsoft cheerfully trumpets the fantastic opportunity to reach Microsoft’s 145 million monthly Cortana users, and brags on the multi-platform capabilities Cortana brings to the table, there is no mention whatsoever of Cortana skill monetization.
Usually, when a fantastic new opportunity is presented to independent developers the ability to get paid for your work is selling point number one. It may be that Microsoft is working on a plan to enable Cortana skill devs to charge for their skills, but the lack of even the slightest hint that this may be a future possibility is not reassuring.
It’s good news for Amazon, because Microsoft has definitely missed an opportunity to lure independent developers away from the Alexa platform by offering a turnkey monetized solution for Cortana skills. Bad news for skill devs though, since their work is still largely being done on a totally volunteer basis.
Will Skill Devs EVER Get Paid?!
Personally, I believe the monetization piece must come eventually if Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Google and others want to offer their customers high-quality skills. Based on what I’ve seen and heard at Amazon Developer Day events and in online discussion groups, Amazon is aware of the problem and is working on solving it. Still, it’s anyone’s guess when monetization will arrive and what form it will take.
So Is It Worth Building Skills At All?
I believe it can be, but it depends on your goals.
My first Alexa skills were built for purposes of educating myself and building credibility as a subject area expert. I still get involved with betas of new skill templates sometimes, to keep myself up to date on changes to the SDK and expanded Alexa skill capabilities. For these outcomes, it’s been totally worth it for me to work on skill development.
Keeping your skill dev smarts sharp and having a few terrific sample skills out there can get you into position for gigs building custom and branded voice-assistant skills for the large and growing list of companies that want to get their names and products in front of IoT device users.
Building skills to suit a specific need of your own, or of a group with which you’re involved (e.g., church calendars, club news and updates, etc.) is also a worthy effort.
Working with the Cortana skills SDK can serve these same purposes but personally, I don’t feel it’s worth my limited time to learn the Cortana SDK and port my Alexa skills over. You may feel differently, and keeping your apps available on as many platforms as possible is generally a good idea. Just be sure that, for now, the time and effort you invest in skill development on any platform is time and effort you’re willing to donate.
For the foreseeable future, this ain’t a paying gig.