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January 07, 2016

Emily Roberts

The Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) is a collection of self-service APIs and tools that make it fast and easy for you to add skills to Alexa. Alexa is the cloud-based voice service that powers Amazon Echo, the #1 seller across all $100+ products on Amazon.com on Black Friday. We announced the availability of the Alexa Skills Kit at the end of June and opened up publishing for all developers on October 23rd.

As TechCrunch reported earlier this week, we now have more than 130 third-party skills for Alexa. Recent skill additions enable Amazon Echo and Fire TV customers to play Jeopardy!, get stock quotes with Fidelity, hear headlines from the Huffington Post, exercise with the 7-minute workout, and test their Star Wars knowledge with a trivia quiz from Disney. We’re excited to see a growing number of developers use the Alexa Skills Kit to expand their reach in the living room and connected home.

Since we launched ASK, we focused on rolling out new features and documentation to help developers build skills more easily. Check out the infographic below to learn more about the Alexa program in 2015. Visit the ASK page to get started or sign up for our Alexa newsletter.

 

January 04, 2016

David Isbitski

This past summer we launched the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK), a collection of self-service APIs and tools that made it fast and easy for you to create new voice-driven capabilities for Alexa. Alexa is the same cloud-based voice service that now powers Amazon Echo, Amazon Fire TV and Stick. Thanks to you, there are currently over 120+ Alexa skills available across Alexa enabled devices. The Alexa Skills Kit has had many new features added since launch, many of which were based directly on your feedback. As we continue to evolve Alexa in 2016 we look forward to hearing your feedback!

Here is a look back at helpful Alexa posts on the Amazon Apps & Services Blog in 2015:

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December 23, 2015

David Isbitski

There are now over 100 Alexa skills available across Alexa enabled devices like the Amazon Echo and Amazon Fire TV and Stick.  On its first Black Friday, Amazon Echo was the #1 best seller across all $100+ products on Amazon.com. Soon, lots of customers will be unboxing their Echo for the first time and exploring Alexa’s skills. To help these new Alexa customers find your skill easier, we have added the ability to do a skill search and added a skill review system. Both of these features are available inside the Alexa app today and you will notice reviews for your skill are already being displayed next to your skill’s name and icon.

New Search Feature Makes It Easier for Customers to Find Your Skills

We’ve made it easier for customers to find and discover new skills by integrating a search feature into the Alexa app. To do a search across all available Alexa skills, open up the Alexa app and navigate to the Skills tab in the side menu.

Across the top of the skills list will be a new search box that allows customers to type in search text. For example, searching for trivia returns a list of available skills that match the trivia search string.

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November 27, 2015

David Isbitski

I am excited to announce a new Voice Simulator that you can use to create SSML (Speech Synthesis Markup Language) without having to make calls to your Alexa skill or the need for an Alexa device. This new tool will let you experiment with SSML speech tags and then immediately hear how Alexa will say them. In addition, we have updated the Service Simulator tool to let Alexa speak responses from your skill directly within the console.

We are also adding four new built-in intents for use within your own skills: Yes, No, Repeat and StartOver. These new intents will enable you to control how Alexa responds to customers requesting that she repeat or start over an action as well as a standard way to respond to questions that require a yes or no answer.

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November 18, 2015

David Isbitski

Experiences designed around the human voice will fundamentally improve the way people use technology. The Alexa Fund—named for the cloud-based voice service that powers Amazon Echo—provides up to $100 million in investments to fuel voice technology innovation from developers, manufacturers, and start-ups of all sizes.

Today we announced the next recipient of the Alexa Fund, Sutro. Sutro is creating a connected smart pool monitor that uses breakthrough technology to remove the burden of water maintenance and enable homeowners to focus on enjoying their pool and spa investments. Sutro automates water testing, can ship chemicals when needed either direct from Sutro or through Amazon’s Dash Replenishment Service, and guides users on how and when to maintain their pool. Sutro is using the Alexa Skills Kit so that Amazon Echo users can simply say “Alexa, ask Sutro what temperature is my pool?” or “Alexa, ask Sutro how long until my spa is ready?” Customers can sign up today and be the first to know when Sutro launches in early 2016 at www.mysutro.com.

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November 13, 2015

David Isbitski

We are excited to announce some Alexa Developer Portal updates and new SSML (Speech Synthesis Markup Language) audio tag support. All of these updates are available for you to use immediately within your own Alexa skills. SSML audio tags enable you to deliver short audio streams intermingled with TTS (text-to-speech) output in response to a customer's requests to your skill. The primary use case for this feature is to allow you to include short audio clips along with TTS in the response and to stream voice responses instead of TTS where appropriate. The length of these tags is short, and should not be used for streaming music, podcasts or similar audio playback. This update also brings the ability to delete test skills that you no longer need.

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November 13, 2015

Emily Roberts

Alexa is the voice service that powers Amazon Echo. Companies can add new skills to Alexa using the Alexa Skills Kit. The Campbell’s Kitchen skill was announced at AWS re:Invent in October 2015, and Campbells created custom skinned Echos to celebrate.

Based on their customer research, Campbell’s knew that customers wanted help with a simple question – what should I make for dinner? Born out of that original insight was Campbell’s Kitchen, an online experience that helps customers answer that very question. The site offers healthy recipes, seasonal meal suggestions, and cooking tips, as well as special savings.

Campbell’s Kitchen is already available online and via an app, and after the Alexa Skills Kit launched over the summer, Umang Shah, Director of Digital Marketing and Marketing Innovation at Campbell Soup Company, saw potential to make the content available in the kitchen hands-free. Campbell’s Digital Marketing agency RAIN, who originally pitched the idea to Umang, then set to work creating a skill to make dinnertime easy. The Campbell’s Kitchen skill launched just six weeks later.

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November 12, 2015

David Isbitski

Since public launch in June, the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) has helped developers around the globe quickly add new voice experiences to Alexa-enabled devices like the Amazon Echo and Amazon Fire TV.  I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many of you and have seen first-hand a skill go from an idea to running on a device in only a few hours. Most of us start out with simple “telling” style skills that give customers a quick reference point, like “Alexa, tell me a random fact.” Then we quickly want to create more complex skills that are more engaging for end-users.  This post combines feedback and best practices from my learnings, our Alexa voice design experts and countless others who have given feedback and input (including many Echo customers) on the types of interactions that work best. 

While you should plan to monitor and tune your own voice interactions based on the ways that users interact with your skill, the tips in this post will hopefully improve the usability of your skill from the start. It is our hope they will give you a better engaged set of customers and help grown your own voice experiences moving forward.

Consistent user feedback has shown Alexa is a delight to use because:

  • Users can speak to her naturally and spontaneously
  • She understands most requests
  • She responds in an appropriate way, either by executing the command, or informing the user why she can’t.

As you look to create your own skills you should ensure all three of these core user experiences are met.

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October 23, 2015

David Isbitski

Since the Alexa Skills Kit Developer Preview launched in June, we’ve continued to roll out new features and documentation based directly on your feedback. Today we are adding three highly requested features as built-in intents for use with your own skills: help, stop and cancel. We’re also adding a new Amazon slot type for US cities. These new intents will enable you to control how Alexa responds to customers requesting her to stop an action or ask for help while running your skill. 

The Alexa Skills Kit provides a collection of new built-in intents. These are intents for very common actions that you can choose to implement without providing any sample utterances. For example, the built-in AMAZON.HelpIntent is automatically mapped to common ways of requesting help from a skill. If you choose to use this intent, users can invoke your skill, say something like “help”, and the Alexa service sends your service an IntentRequest for the AMAZON.HelpIntent. Your service can handle this intent in a way appropriate for your skill. Built-in intents save you the trouble of having to write multiple sample utterances for the intent and give your skill a consistent, common way to work with.

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October 23, 2015

David Isbitski

In August, we started giving customers an early look at some of the Alexa skills built by developers like you. If you own an Alexa-enabled device, such as Amazon Echo, you have probably seen some of these skills become available within in your Alexa app. Today we are announcing automatic publishing for any of your Alexa skills that have passed certification. This update makes it quicker and easier for you to add new voice capabilities to Alexa that customers can begin to enable with their own Alexa devices.

If you're thinking writing a new skill for Alexa, now is the time to submit it for certification. Once certified, your skills will be available to customers on Alexa-enabled devices, like Amazon Echo and Amazon Fire TV, just in time for the holiday season. If this is your first time using the Alexa Skills Kit, we recommend you review the following materials in this order:

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October 21, 2015

David Isbitski

We are excited to announce that all of the Alexa sessions from AWS re:Invent 2015 are now freely available online. These sessions includes everything you need to get started as an Alexa developer, real world tips and advice, as well as first hand Alexa Skill creation experiences told directly from Capital One and BMW.

Alexa AWS re:Invent 2015 Session Recordings

What follows is the full day of Alexa session recordings and links to download the slides.

(MBL301) Creating Voice Experiences Using Amazon Alexa [Watch Video][Download Slides]
David Isbitski, Principal Evangelist, Alexa and Echo

Alexa is the speech and personal assistant technology behind Amazon Echo. Today you can use Alexa to listen to music, play games, check traffic and weather, control your household devices such as Philips Hue and Belkin WeMo, and lots more. Alexa offers a full-featured set of APIs and SDKs that you can use to teach her new skills and add her into devices and applications of your own. In this talk, intended for software and hardware developers interested in voice control, home automation, and personal assistant technology, we will walk through the development of a new Alexa skill and incorporate it into a consumer-facing device.

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October 16, 2015

David Isbitski

Experiences designed around the human voice will fundamentally improve the way people use technology. The Alexa Fund—named for Alexa, the cloud-based voice service that powers Amazon Echo—provides up to $100 million in investments to fuel voice technology innovation from developers, manufacturers, and start-ups of all sizes.

Today Amazon announced a new recipient of the Alexa Fund, Invoxia. Invoxia is a France-based tech company and creator of Triby, a new Wi-Fi connected communication device that lives in your kitchen. Triby magnetically sticks to your fridge and can play music, make calls, and display messages. Invoxia will work with the Alexa Skills Kit and Alexa Voice Service to integrate Alexa into Triby, so customers can simply say things like “Alexa, ask Triby to call mom.” Triby will be the first third-party product to integrate Alexa with far-field voice capabilities. Learn more about Invoxia and Triby at http://www.invoxia.com/en.

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October 14, 2015

Emily Roberts

The Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) is a collection of self-service APIs and tools that make it fast and easy for you to add skills to Alexa. Alexa is the cloud-based voice service that powers Amazon Echo, a new category of device designed around your voice.  We announced the availability of the Alexa Skills Kit at the end of June, and thousands of developers have started building skills to expand Alexa’s capabilities.

More Features for Developers

Since June, we’ve continued to roll out new features and documentation to help you build more easily. Most recently, we launched a submission checklist to clarify our certification process and help you get your skill certified more quickly. This is the most recent in new Alexa Skills Kit releases for developers. In September, we launched account linking, service simulator, custom slot types and SSML support.

  • Get Certified Faster: Our submission checklist includes an overview of policy and security requirements as well as recommended functional, voice interface and user experience tests.
  • Easily Link Accounts: Allow customers to link their existing account with your service to Alexa by simply visiting the skills tab in the Alexa smartphone app.
  • Test Skills without a Device: Test your skill service without an Alexa-enabled device with the new service simulator by inputting text and view the service input and output on the screen.
  • Create Your Own Custom Slots: Reduce your required utterances by creating custom slots and sets of values for items that are not covered by Amazon’s built-in slot types.
  • Influence Alexa’s Inflection: Support for Speech Synthesis Markup Language (SSML), gives you additional control over how Alexa generates speech from your text response.
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October 06, 2015

Rohan Mutagi

We recently launched the Alexa Lighting API extending Alexa’s built-in lighting skill so she can securely control cloud-connected lighting and switch devices. This new API enables you to write code that translates between Alexa’s built-in lighting skill and your lighting device’s proprietary control systems. Once a customer turns on the functionality, they can control these new devices simply by saying phrases like, “Alexa, turn on the living room lights” or "Alexa, turn off the fan." 

The Alexa Lighting API can be used to control any cloud-connected device that can be turned on/off or have its brightness adjusted. Discoverability is easy! Devices that you enable automatically show up in the Alexa companion app in the Connected Home settings screen. Wink and Samsung SmartThings have already built this functionality for their home automation hubs using the Alexa Lighting API, and any new devices you integrate will show up right alongside those!

In order to get things started a customer will need to connect their desired device to your skill adapter in the Alexa companion app. This process is handled via standard OAuth providers, like Login with Amazon, to make the experience as simple as possible.

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October 01, 2015

David Isbitski

We are excited to announce two new Alexa Skills Kit features have been made available for you to use immediately within your own Alexa skills. This update gives you the ability to create custom slots and values for items that are not covered by Amazon’s built-in slot types. If you have created an Alexa skill before, you may have often relied on the LITERAL slot type for most of your intents. This resulted in a large amount of sample utterances being required for Alexa to consistently understand your requests. With custom slot types you can now define your own slot types resulting in far fewer sample utterances.

With this update we have also added support for Speech Synthesis Markup Language (SSML) allowing you to control how Alexa generates speech from your skill’s text responses. This includes Alexa’s inflection, pauses, periods, interpretation (like how to specify digits, dates or times) and pronunciation. Need her to pause after a long sentence? Now you can!

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