Amazon Unleashes Dozens of Alexa Developer Improvements

Posted on July 22, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Amazon, Dev, Smart Home with 7 Comments

At its Alexa Live 2020 virtual event today, Amazon has announced dozens of new features for developers targeting the Alexa voice assistant. The new features come at a good time because the COVID-19 pandemic has increased voice assistant usage dramatically, Amazon says. And while the firm lacks direct attachment to a popular mobile platform like Android or iOS, much of the new usage is coming from those stuck at home.

Here’s a sampling of what’s new.

Alexa for Apps (Preview). This lets developers take users into their mobile apps on Android or iOS directly from their Alexa skill. “With Alexa for Apps added to a custom skill, customers who make requests using the Alexa app, Alexa built-in phones, or Alexa mobile accessories such as Echo Buds, can use their voice to interact with mobile apps,” Amazon says. “Key use cases include using voice to quickly search, view more information, and access any functionality inside your app. Alexa for Apps is easy to implement with any app that can be opened with deep links, and is already being added to experiences for TikTok, Yellow Pages, Uber, Sonic, Zynga, Volley, and others.”

Alexa Conversations (Beta). This new feature helps developers create more natural-feeling Alexa skills with fewer lines of code. “Alexa Conversations is a new AI-driven approach to dialog management that enables you to create skills that customers can interact with in a natural, less constrained way – using the phrases they prefer, in the order they prefer – while freeing you to focus on the highest value parts of your experience,” Amazon explains.

APL for Audio (Beta). This extends existing audio frameworks to add new audio mixing capabilities that let you use Alexa to mix speech, sound effects, music, and other audio at runtime on all Alexa-enabled devices, Amazon says. “You can create delightful customer experiences such as weather skills that mix sound effects based on the forecast or immersive games that dynamically generate sound effects based on player inputs.”

New customer experiences. This is a laundry list of new features, including app-to-app account linking from the Alexa app, app-to-app account linking from an Android app, a Person Profile API, and a preview version of Limit Access to help verify which voice profile is accessing your skill. You can learn more here.

Alexa Web API for Games. The Web API lets you can create “visually impressive, animated, multimodal Alexa games using HTML5, Web Audio, CSS, and JavaScript;” you can also create 3D experiences with WebGL. Learn more here.

Quick Links for Alexa (Beta) and new in-skill purchasing options. This new capability is available in the United States and lets you add a link from your mobile app, website, or online ads that customers can click to launch your skill. “This makes it easy for customers to access your skill, and easy for you to track conversion from online ads,” Amazon says.

Alexa Presentation Language (APL) 1.4. The next version of the Alexa Presentation Language (APL) lets you build interactive visual experiences with new capabilities and improved tooling. APL 1.4 adds editable text boxes, drag and drop UI controls, and back navigation so customers can return to previous screens, Amazon explains.

Skill resumption (Preview). Skill resumption allows users to return to a skill after a short break or even after using Alexa to complete a separate task. “With skill resumption, customers can enable your skill to resume automatically when your Alexa skill has new information to provide – such as the arrival of their Uber or time elapsed in a workout – or customers can simply ask for an update,” Amazon writes.

Name-Free Interaction (NFI) Toolkit. This new toolkit makes it easier for users to find and open skills without having to remember and say the skill’s name. “Alexa uses keywords, skill descriptions, and categories to surface relevant skills when customers say things like ‘play an adventure game’,” Amazon notes. “We’re continuously improving name-free interaction for customers so they can find a skill without using the skill’s name.”

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Comments (7)

7 responses to “Amazon Unleashes Dozens of Alexa Developer Improvements”

  1. Chris_Kez

    Are developers making money with any of this stuff?

  2. Rob_Wade

    NOBODY gets this right. Cortana on Windows phones was almost perfect for me. 100% hands-free capability, even while locked. She announced incoming messages, gave me the option to respond to them, gave me the ability to initiate them, all without ever touching the device....whether I was in the car or working on a project around the house or theater. I could initiate playing music, etc, again, all hands-free. You can't do ANY of this with devices or assistants available today. Not with the freedom that I had before. And this angers me beyond belief. And, probably more frustrating, is that most users AREN'T INSISTING ON THIS CAPABILITY? What's WRONG with you people?

    • SvenJ

      In reply to Rob_Wade: We can't figure out where to demand this, and what leverage we have. Not like we can tell Amazon, fix this or I'll get a Windows Phone. I agree though, WP was great at this, and nothing currently compares.

    • bleeman

      In reply to Rob_Wade:

      I agree 100% I find most of today's assistant's are brain dead compared to what we had with Cortana when it was released on Windows Phone. I always thought where they assigned a dummy number to Cortana so that I could "call" her while driving was genius. At the time I was on the road a lot and it was great. I have an Amazon Echo in my truck nowadays and half the time I spend more time trying to get it to understand something than actually get any real use out of it. One of the other Cortana functions I miss was its location awareness. I loved traveling down the road and if it detected a location that I had a task for, say "Pick up milk at Tom Thumb", if I passed a Tom Thumb she would wake up and ask if I wanted to stop and get milk or do it the next time.

      I remember when they first introduced the option to tell Alexa to "Open Cortana" it was amazing how often Alexa couldn't figure out what I needed or would give me the wrong information, but saying "Open Cortana" and asking the same question/request 98% of the time she'd have it.

  3. davidblouin

    Are people actually using theses V.A. ? What about the smart speakers ? Not being cynyc, i actually want to know before jumping in !

    • SvenJ

      In reply to davidblouin: Yes.     Oh, were you looking for more? ;)  At my house we mostly use Echo as a handsfree interface into Smart Home (nee home automation). That primarily covers lights, fans, some outlets, but also some media. Routines can turn on or off specific, or groups of lights. Saying Goodnight can turn off any lights that happen to have been left on. Turn on the bedroom fan, can turn it on while laying in bed. You can have the stereo turned on or off, or turn the TV on to Fox. It is mostly a convenience, but can be very much so when you have your hands full, or aren't sure if you turned all the lights off downstairs when you are already in bed. We do use the speaker function some for background much like a clock radio. You can play a radio station, or a streaming service, and say shut of in 1 hr. On occasion the VAs are used for answering a question, what is the temperature, will it rain, how far is Seattle from here, how old is Jennifer Garner.  The Echo devices also make a very nice whole house intercom, point to point or broadcast, depending how many you want to invest in.
      So there is one person's input. I assume they are being used by others as I can't imagine Amazon and Google are producing and maintaining them just for me.

      • davidblouin

        In reply to SvenJ:

        Thanks for your input but yeah i was looking for something like regular metrics , something post say every six months or years that tell us somethings like, who sold the most smart speaker and how many user still use them after six months.

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