Always-On voice devices are great for making notes in the household, and keeping track of newborn baby activities is the PERFECT application of the Amazon Echo and Google Home.
The new idiom is ‘An Echo Never Forgets.’
As a leading app, Amazon recently featured Baby Stats on TV!
An interview of Cory Wixom by Carlos Cheung
Cory, what prompted you to create voice apps for Baby Stats?
This past year, for my birthday, my wife bought me an Amazon Echo. We were about to have a baby and we started looking into baby applications that would help us be successful parents. We first looked for an application to track all of our baby’s activities. (i.e. when we feed them, when they slept, etc.) We looked at a bunch of baby applications on the market, but most were very complicated. That’s when I decided to build my own version to track things with your voice through Alexa, Assistant, or Cortana, and there’s a companion mobile application as well.
As soon as I launched on Alexa, I started getting reviews for feature requests or improvements — it was very exciting. Every month onward, I added more functionality. What started as a simple-project (a Lambda function) for my wife and I became a more serious endeavor. I built an application using Azure and kept expanding features and supporting other platforms.
The main things you can track today for your baby: When did the baby pee, poop, or sleep; when was the baby fed (how many ounces, which breast, etc.); how much does the baby weigh.
This information is important to track because it’s required by doctors during your weekly appointments to make sure the baby is healthy. It helps doctors answer questions like, “Is your baby getting enough water?” Most doctors hand you a piece of paper and you have to remember to track information throughout the day, and not lose the paper. Also, as a busy parent, I want to make sure I can easily recall the last time I fed my baby. This becomes a real hassle when you’re running around and working all day!
What’s next for Baby Stats?
When my baby started daycare, I noticed that during the day, the teachers take pictures of your kid and send them to you. Also, the daycare tracks when your baby poops and pees, but they have to manually enter this data into a master app. I think it would be interesting to use what I built to enable daycares to use their voice, especially when they have 20 kids running around. Anything that helps the adults running daycares is a worthwhile endeavor.
How do you compare building for Amazon, Google, and Microsoft?
I had to learn to build for each for the different platforms. Amazon Alexa has my vote right now because of the strong user base and consumer community; however, a nice-to-have on the Alexa platform would be a better “date data type.” The data type currently doesn’t have built in date-time function. I currently need to ask the user for their time-zone, because the date data type is the end-user’s local time, which is hard for a developer to support. (i.e it’s 4:00 pm, but 4:00 pm in which time-zone?)
I also really like Google Assistant because the toolset and API.ai is more developer friendly (its data type is better). For my google application, I’m getting a lot of people to come, but not stay. Lastly, I’m excited for what’s to come with Microsoft Cortana and their product roadmap.
It has been a unique experience building for Google Home. Google provides a handoff experience when users make a request (Implicit Triggering). My analytics show that people who tell Google Assistant “to poop” are redirected to my application, (yes, they are asking Google to go poop). I don’t think Baby Stats is what they are looking for… This different hand-off is fascinating compared to Amazon. You’re not just explicitly choosing an application, but as you talk to Google Assistant, it recommends applications for you to interact with. In my mind, they haven’t gotten those right yet, but it is very promising.
Is there a big opportunity for Baby and Children related Voice Applications?
There is a bigger opportunity related to BabyCenter. When you’re a newer parent you don’t know what is going on with your baby, and you end up a lot on BabyCenter forums. BabyCenter should do a better job of passing that data via voice-first devices for parents to learn.
I could see an opportunity for baby forums driven by voice — live streaming or voice messages. Similar to StackOverflow, where you get a crowdsourced response and listen to what people say.
My baby’s first word might be “Alexa. Haha.”
***Other popular at-home use cases VoiceLabs is seeing include bedtime stories for children, baby monitors that interface with voice, and baby applications for first-time parents.***
Do you have feedback for VoiceLabs?
I originally saw VoiceLabs on the Alexa Forum and was intrigued by the offering. I was interested in seeing the usage in all my voice applications and analyze what features users were most intrigued by. I logged every activity from each user and labeled it to show total usage across all platforms (on Mobile, Alexa, Assistant, and Cortana), something you couldn’t do with the SDK. ***Very cool extension of VoiceLabs’ platform!***
In order to trigger tracking of users, without too much friction, I assign each user a unique ID number. Thus, if they used BabyStats on mobile or other devices, they would be able to cross reference previous stats without the difficulty of account linking or signing in.
What can VoiceLabs provide you?
I hope VoiceLabs provides a .NET SDK in the future. I had to reverse engineer the VoiceLabs API and make a call on it directly to use the platform. Also, I wish I can delete an app on VoiceLabs in my home panel. This was both a blessing and a curse though. It allowed me a little more control to manage the user ID I send to VoiceLabs to aggregate the users across all platforms together.
Generally, I’m not sure what other tools I would want because everything in the voice ecosystem is so new. Besides the VoiceLabs blog, there are no best practices online or books to read.
Cory, his wife, and his baby live in San Diego, and he builds Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant apps in his spare time. His day is focused on making the world a happier place, as a software developer for FTD.