Yandex Blog

Our Intelligent Assistant Alice Turns One

A year ago, Yandex launched its intelligent assistant, Alice, equipped with advanced conversational abilities that uniquely enable users to engage in free-flowing chit-chat.  Alice was first available through our search app, connecting users with many core Yandex services to help navigate their daily routines.  Some of the original services included Search, News, Weather, and Music.  Today, 30 million people use Alice every month on multiple platforms, and the assistant has become more useful and fun through the addition of thousands of new skills.  In honor of one year in production, we wanted to share an update on Alice's growth.

On mobile devices, Alice is available through the Yandex app and Yandex Browser.  In March, Alice was added to Yandex Browser for Windows, making our browser the first to have a voice assistant.  Through the launch of our first hardware product, the Yandex.Station smart speaker, Alice became available to assist users in their homes.  Alice is also used on multiple platforms for transportation, helping users navigate to destinations with voice commands and fewer distractions.  Through the Yandex.Navigator app, Alice assists with directions, while Alice's incorporation into Yandex.Taxi allows users to hail a ride using voice commands.  The vehicles in our market-leading car-sharing service, Yandex.Drive, also employ Alice in the infotainment system to help users with multiple needs in the car.

While Alice excels at helping users better manage their tasks, the assistant can also provide a break from the rigors of the daily grind.  For example, games have become a popular use of the service.  Trivia games serve to both entertain and educate users with fun interactions.  Alice also provides personalized music through integration with Yandex.Music and can help users discover new songs.  With Alice, users can find the name of a song by asking, "Alice, what's playing now?"

Beyond advanced conversational skills, Alice also now has the power of vision with best-in-class reverse image search capabilities.  Users can take a picture of an unfamiliar object, such as a car, animal, or building, and Alice will provide information on the image in near real time.  Within the captured images, Alice can detect text and offer to translate it, as well as find consumer goods on Yandex.Market, Russia's leading price comparison tool.  The skill helps users better connect with the world around them, whether they are traveling and curious about a landmark or spot a pair of shoes to purchase as a gift.

Over the last year, we have continued to add Alice to more Yandex services, but we have also opened up the platform to third-party companies and developers through the Yandex.Dialogues skills platform.  Since introducing Yandex.Dialogues at the end of May, over 1,000 third-party skills have been added to Alice, bringing the total amount of skills to over 28,000.  Users can now book flights, order food, control their smart home, and more.  Yandex actively encourages developers to create new skills for Alice through a competition where they can win monetary rewards for the most useful and exciting skills, as chosen by the Alice team.

Some of the top international companies that have created skills for Alice include Unicredit Bank, ASICS, Reebok, and Papa John's.  Along with skills added by leading Russian brands like S7 Airlines, MegaFon, and Alfa Insurance, users now have thousands of ways to use Alice with the third-party services they use every day.  A great example of this is online banking, which has proven to be one of the most popular skills on Alice.

Thanks to all of our users who have inspired us to develop more capabilities for Alice and to the businesses who have embraced the technology to expand opportunities for their customers.  From the many users who wished Alice a Happy Birthday with the special birthday skill, to the film Hotel Transylvania 3 for featuring Alice in their movie, we are thrilled to see the many ways in which Alice has become part of modern life.  We look forward to another year of growing with Alice!

Expanding the Yandex Intelligent Assistant Ecosystem

Today at our annual Yet Another Conference (YAC) we announced major expansions to the Yandex intelligent assistant ecosystem that includes our new smart speaker, a new skills platform for our intelligent assistant Alice, and a new bundled subscription service.  Combined these developments offer the Russian audience more choice and the most advanced ability to navigate the online and offline world to date.

Over the years we have provided the Russian audience with many firsts and many highly localized smart products and services. And over time many of these products and services have come to operate together through our Search app to offer a more fluid user-experience. Last fall we enhanced that experience by introducing our Russian-speaking intelligent assistant Alice - first to mobile through our Search and Browser apps, then to desktops through Yandex Browser, and then to cars through our navigation app, Yandex.Navigator and the forthcoming integration in our Yandex.Auto connected car platform.

Building on our success helping users with tens of millions of daily interactions on Alice on multiple platforms, we are excited to welcome Alice to Russian homes in addition to building out more capabilities and benefits for users of our smart speaker and services.

A new platform & our first hardware launch

Our new smart speaker, Yandex.Station, is not only our first hardware product but it is the first smart speaker for the Russian market. With the introduction of Yandex.Station, Russian users now have the ability to rely on Alice and voice commands to manage a number of routine tasks in their homes.

Yandex.Station is the first smart speaker to incorporate a full video streaming experience.  A HDMI output allows Yandex.Station users to ask Alice to search for and playback videos, movies and television shows from a wide variety of sources.  Currently, Yandex.Station has access to Yandex's video streaming service KinoPoisk, as well as a wide range of other content including premium local video service providers ivi and Amediateka.

Yandex.Station will be available for purchase for 9,990 roubles ($160) this summer.

More collaboration and capabilities for our intelligent assistant

To further expand Alice’s functionality on Yandex.Station and all other platforms, we created a developers skills platform for Alice called Yandex.Dialogues.  This platform is designed to make it easy for any 3rd party developer to create new skills for Alice, ranging from a beginner programmer working on their first game to a major brand that can further enhance their customer experiences, such as a restaurant chain taking food orders.

Through Yandex.Dialogues developers can empower Alice to create custom conversations with users.  Developers choose a custom hotword that a potential customer can then use to activate a custom chat, game or whatever service has been developed. For example, a customer can say, “Alice, launch the Papa John’s skill” to activate Papa John’s skill that handles their pizza ordering.  Developers can also uniquely incorporate a live-chat feature to manage customer service that can include chatbots and live human operators to provide the best possible user experience.

The Dialogues chat functionality will also be available on Yandex’s search results page to further expand their reach.

Yandex.Dialogues is mutually beneficial for both our users and businesses. Users gain more choice and more efficient interactions with companies, while businesses have an innovative opportunity to reach and serve new and existing audiences.

Thanks to the creativity of hundreds of developers during the three-month beta testing period for Dialogues, Alice now allows users to interact with some of their favorite brands.   

Alice has the capability to help users order a pizza from Papa John’s, groceries from Utkonos and flowers from Flowwow.  Alice can also help users check MegaFon mobile phone account balances, exercise with Reebok, select air tickets from S7, search for a job with HeadHunter, study English with SkyEng, browse a McDonald’s menu, and consult with a Sberbank bot.  With Dialogues now publically available we look forward to all of the new skills that will help Alice serve users’ needs better.

New benefits and options for our users  

When it comes to offering more benefits for our products and services, we launched a new bundled subscription service for Yandex products, Yandex.Plus,that provides advanced opportunities to utilize the Yandex ecosystem.

Owners of the new Yandex.Station will receive a complimentary one-year subscription to Yandex.Plus, which regularly costs 169 roubles ($2.75) per month, and includes:

  • Complete access to Yandex.Music, including unlimited downloads to mobile devices and high-quality music streaming.
  • A 10% discount for Yandex.Taxi rides in the Comfort, Comfort+ and Business categories.
  • Free delivery for customers in over 30 locations in Russia spending over 500 roubles on Yandex.Market's new marketplace recently launched in beta.
  • A 5% discount for any Yandex.Drive ride with an extended car reservation period.
  • Ad-free viewing of films and television series on the web-based version of KinoPoisk.
  • Additional 10GB of free storage space on Yandex.Disk.

As we reflect on these important expansions to the Yandex intelligent ecosystem, we are excited by the advancements and opportunities this creates for the Russian audience and the entire global technology community.  

An update on our intelligent assistant Alice

Last fall we launched our intelligent assistant Alice, providing the Russian market with an assistant equipped with high-quality conversational abilities and advanced understanding of context. We were especially excited to provide users with this unique interactive feature and we were humbled by the overwhelming positive feedback we received.  Today Alice engages in tens of millions of interactions every day to millions of daily active users.

While we have been thrilled to see the adoption (plus all our users’ funny memes and screenshots), we were also eager to keep Alice on track in advancing its development as a centralized tool that integrates multiple useful services, which started with Search, Weather, News, Maps, Transport, and Music.  Over the course of Alice’s first six months in production, we introduced several new features and capabilities to provide users with even more assistance.  We shared those updates to our Russian users as they happened but wanted to provide a recap to our English audience before we enter the next phase of development and expand Alice’s capabilities even further:

  • Integration with Yandex.Navigator: Alice is now helping drivers stay safer on the roads through integration with Yandex.Navigator, Yandex’s navigation system that serves over 18 million drivers every month.  With the help of Alice and advanced speech technologies, drivers can ask Alice to help provide routes to destinations, locate the nearest gas station, and find open parking spots among other features.  While Yandex.Navigator previously handled specific voice commands, the integration with Alice has enhanced the service to offer more natural interaction on relevant navigation topics.
  • Integration with Yandex.Taxi: Through integration with our market-leading Yandex.Taxi app, Alice can also help book taxi orders by checking the address or name of the desired organization and then launching the Yandex.Taxi order page with all relevant information. After a user makes the request, he or she just needs to hit the order button once Alice has loaded all relevant information.
  • Interactive Games: Alice offers users a chance to test their knowledge and entertain themselves with over 16 interactive games.  Alice’s games help challenge users with their knowledge of various topics through trivia style games such as This day in history, Guess the Animal, and Fact or Fiction.
  • Integration with Yandex Browser for desktop: Through integration with Yandex Browser, Alice offers users a new way to interact with their computer through voice.  In addition to other standard functions offered through mobile, Alice provides assistance with operations in both the browser and the computer. Alice can help open a favorite YouTube channel, play a song and change the volume in addition to other options such as launching Word or shutting down the computer.
  • Math and currency conversions: Alice helps users quickly solve their advanced banking and math questions through voice commands. Alice computes math questions in addition to helping with currency conversions.
  • Timer and Alarm: Alice helps users stay on schedule with the timer and alarm functions that are integrated into Android.  Whether it is setting a timer while cooking or a reminder, Alice users can simply ask Alice to help them stay organized.

As part of this process to expand Alice’s capabilities and ecosystem even further, we introduced a beta version of Yandex.Dialogues, which provides developers the opportunity to develop new skills for Alice.  We believe that some of the best products come from collaboration and diversity and we look forward to Alice’s growth through this initiative.  We are excited to share more news on the development of Alice in the coming future!