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February 19, 2016

David Isbitski

Today we announced that Amazon is teaming up with Big Nerd Ranch to deliver immersive, free training for the Alexa Skills Kit.

  

Big Nerd Ranch, known globally for its highly effective immersive application development bootcamps and app development services, is working with Amazon to develop training courses for the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK). ASK is a collection of self-service APIs, tools, documentation and code samples that make it fast and easy for you to add skills to Alexa. Using ASK, you can teach new skills to Alexa in just a few hours. No prior experience with speech recognition or natural language understanding is required. All of the code runs in the cloud — nothing is installed on any user device.

This new training will be available to you later this month, at no cost, and we’ll continue to roll out new modules over the coming months. The training will show you how to build Alexa skills from start to finish, beginning with development environment setup, and concluding with the Amazon certification and more complex skill interactions like account linking. Best practices for voice user interfaces will also be taught, along with UI design, database interaction, testing and more.

You can check out the full announcement here.

-Dave (@TheDaveDev)

 

February 12, 2016

David Isbitski

Over the past several weeks I have been hosting weekly Alexa webinars offering an introduction to building skills, voice design guidance as well as hands on demos with the latest Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) features. Based on your feedback, some of the most exciting parts of these webinars have been the open dialog we have had together. The webinars have become a place to get your questions answered directly and instantly. With that in mind I am happy to announce new weekly office hours in addition to the weekly webinars.

Office hours, which I had previously called Alexa Dev Chats, will be a place for you talk directly with myself and the Amazon Alexa team every Tuesday at 1pm PST/4pm EST. During these office hours, you will be able to get answers to any technical questions you have, discuss your skill use case, learn voice design best practices and see live code demos to help you troubleshoot. Our hope is to enable you to get help with quick questions, build the right voice design for your use case, get your skill certified more quickly, and learn how to use AWS services like AWS Lambda for your skill. 

We’ll rotate different roles through the office hours so that you can learn about voice design from our VUI experts, new ASK features from our engineering team, as well as skill submission tips from our certification team.

Here are the topics for the next four weeks:

  • February 16th, General FAQ
  • February 23rd, Certification
  • March 1st, General FAQ
  • March 8th, Voice Design

Sign up now. You can sign up for your preferred date or topic here. If you would like to have a chat on a topic not currently listed, please let me know.

-Dave (@TheDaveDev)

February 10, 2016

David Isbitski

Here are the upcoming Alexa events scheduled for February 2016:
 

Online

Intro to ASK | February 11th, 10 am PST / 1 pm EST

Learn how to build your first Alexa skill using the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) using AWS Lambda. We’ll also take a look at how to monitor your new skill using AWS CloudWatch and how to submit your Alexa Skills for certification so they will be available to customers later this year.
 

Voice Design 101 | February 18th, 10 am PST / 1 pm EST

Alexa enables customers to interact with devices and services in a more intuitive way using their voice. This webinar will teach you best practices for voice user interface (VUI), how to maximize usability of your voice experience, and how to creating compelling voice experiences with the Alexa Skills Kit.


New ASK Features | February 29th, 10 am PST / 1 pm EST

This webinar will go deeper into some of the newly released Alexa Skils Kit features including Speech Synthesis Markup Language (SSML) and new Built-In Intents. You’ll see code samples and explanations of how you can implement thse features within your own skills. Immediately following the talk there will be an open Q&A where you can bring your questions and get help with your own skills. 

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February 05, 2016

Emily Roberts

It's been a big week for our Alexa developer community. Developers have added over 200 skills to the Alexa platform. Amazon Echo and Fire TV customers can now request a car service with Uber or order a pizza from Domino's — just in time for the Super Bowl. Alexa will also join Alec Baldwin for the #BaldwinBowl, starring in Amazon's first-ever Super Bowl commercial. Watch the videos to see how Alexa is helping Alec plan an epic party.

Alexa, Ask Uber to Get Me a Car

Alexa can now call you a car. Whether you're off to the airport or a big night out, get a reliable ride in minutes. Choose among Uber's various ride options, from low-cost to premium. You can check it out on The Verge or learn more details on the API integration on the Uber developer blog here.

To get started, set your Echo's location under "Settings" in your Alexa App, then enable the Uber skill and link your Uber account. If you don't have an account, you'll be prompted to create one. Once set up, just ask:

Spotify

We also announced this week that Spotify subscribers in the U.S. can now listen to their music on Amazon Echo—just ask Alexa to play any playlist, artist, genre and more from Spotify’s catalog. And because Echo also supports Spotify Connect, customers can easily transfer and control their listening experience from the Spotify app to Echo—just select Echo from the list of available devices within the Spotify app. Then, just ask:

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February 04, 2016

David Isbitski

All Alexa skills submitted for publication go through an Amazon Skill Certification process. This process ensures that we provide customers quality content in the Alexa Skills Catalog and that we help you deliver the highest quality experience possible. While we have Voice Experience and User Experience Guidelines available, I wanted to point out an area many skills have consistently been failing certification on. It is my hope that you can avoid the same problem when creating your skill’s Example Phrases.

As part of your skill’s description, we ask you to provide three Example Phrases for customers teaching them how to interact with your skill.


The first phrase should be the easiest way to get started with your skill. It will be displayed with the short skill description in the main list of skills in the Alexa App.

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February 02, 2016

David Isbitski

As the developer community around Alexa has continued to grow (great news), we’ve been getting more feedback. This feedback is important to us, and we’re doing our best to gather as much as possible. Many of us on the Alexa team read our developer forums on a daily basis, and we talk to developers at industry events almost every week. Suggestions are coming in for new Alexa features, and we’re getting questions on our certification and testing process. Specifically, the questions we hear the most are:

  • Why even test Alexa skills? These are different than mobile apps and developers can make changes without resubmitting. So what’s the point?
  • What’s the process by which you test skills? Given the differences from mobile apps, what are the steps being taken?
  • Once a skill is published, how do you maintain any control over the experience?
  • What are the top failures and what help can you offer in those areas?                          

We’ll address those questions here and provide details on how we test, why some skills are failing, and include resources to help you build higher quality skills. We know that Alexa will only succeed with the help of the developer community, so as we build out Alexa, your ideas are important inputs. Thank you for your support.

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January 26, 2016

David Isbitski

The Alexa Skills Kit has been updated with additional features. The changes are listed below and immediately available for you to take advantage of when building your skills. 

Account Linking oAuth 2.0 Support

The Alexa Skills Kit allows your customers to link their existing accounts with you, to Alexa. To link accounts, customers visit the skills tab in the Amazon Alexa app and enable your skill. They are then prompted to log in to your site using their normal credentials. You authenticate the customer and generate an access token that uniquely identifies the customer and link the accounts.
 

 

An update to account linking is now live that enables skills to authenticate in OAuth 2.0 using both authorization grant and refresh tokens. You can find additional details here.

Custom Slots Sizes

The custom slot type is used for items that are not covered by Amazon’s built-in set of types and is recommended for most use cases where a slot value is one of a set of possible values.

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January 13, 2016

David Isbitski

CES is the world’s gathering place for all who thrive on the business of consumer technologies. Held in Las Vegas every year, it has served as the proving ground for innovators and breakthrough technologies for more than 40 years—the global stage where next-generation innovations are introduced to the marketplace. This year’s CES included several Alexa announcements, below is a recap.

Ford Sync Alexa Integration

Ford is looking to use new SYNC Connect technology to link vehicles with the Amazon cloud- based voice service Alexa, which would allow customers to access their vehicle from inside their home. Using Amazon Echo, a hands-free speaker and voice command device that interfaces with Alexa, Ford owners could request assistance with various functions of their car including: 


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January 11, 2016

David Isbitski

Here are the upcoming Alexa events scheduled for Jan 2016:

Online

Voice Design 101 | January 7, 10 am PT / 1 pm ET

Alexa enables customers to interact with devices and services in a more intuitive way using their voice. This webinar will teach you best practices for voice user interface (VUI), how to maximize usability of your voice experience, and how to creating compelling voice experiences with the Alexa Skills Kit.

Intro to ASK | January 14, 10 am PT / 1 pm ET

Learn how to build your first Alexa skill using the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) using AWS Lambda. We’ll also take a look at how to monitor your new skill using AWS CloudWatch and how to submit your Alexa Skills for certification so they will be available to customers later this year.

IOT Learn with the Best Conference | January 16, 10am ET

Alexa will be part of the “Learn IoT with the best” conference which brings the world’s top Internet of Things developers to your living room! Learn how to build your first Alexa skill using the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) using AWS Lambda and book a 1:1 session to ask your own Alexa questions. Use the speaker code "Amazon1oT" for 50% discount! 

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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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