Steven Arkonovich Enhances Voice-First Alexa Skills with Visuals and Touch Using the Alexa Presentation Language

Jennifer King Nov 29, 2018
Inspiration Spotlight Multimodal

With over 60,000 active monthly users and a 50% conversion rate for an in-skill subscription, Alexa Champion Steven Arkonovich has figured out how to grow and monetize his popular Big Sky weather skill. When he heard about the Alexa Presentation Language (APL), a new design language for building multimodal skills, Arkonovich saw an opportunity to evolve Big Sky into a more engaging, voice-first experience and further grow his voice business by reaching more customers than ever before.

“APL represents a monumental change for the user experience on screen-based devices,” says Arkonovich. “While expanding the voice experience to screens makes the customer experience more engaging through voice, visuals, and touch, it also lets developers expand their creativity. APL simply changes everything for building an Alexa skill.”

Using APL, Arkonovich has updated Big Sky so that the experience can be optimized for tens of millions Alexa-enabled devices with screens, providing a unique experience for devices ranging from Echo Show and Echo Spot, all the way to the big-screen experience of Fire TV.

“APL has opened my creativity, broadened my audience, and expanded what my skill can do,” says Arkonovich. “It puts me in a position where I can easily customize an experience for different devices, which will help me reach more Alexa users and drive greater adoption of my skill.”

A Popular Weather Skill Goes Multimodal with the Alexa Presentation Language

Arkonovich originally created Big Sky to deliver personalized, hyper-local weather information. Customers can decide to hear a detailed weather report or just the specific information they want. This approach to delivering a customizable experience has earned Arkonovich over 60,000 active monthly users, a 4.4 average star rating, and a growing voice business.

However, Arkonovich has been itching to develop a more engaging Big Sky experience for multimodal devices like Echo Show, Echo Spot, and Fire TV. With APL, he can design and build experiences with a variety of custom visual and touch components. Using the APL authoring tool in the Alexa Developer Console, developers can design the look and feel of the experience for a variety of Alexa-enabled devices with different screen sizes and shapes. And because APL is expressed with a syntax similar to CSS and JSON, it’s easy for most developers to understand on sight.

“Even with APL, Alexa remains a voice-first experience. But having visuals to confirm or complement the information is a great feature,” says Arkonovich. “Users can glance at the screen to confirm what they hear or use touch to page through additional information. It’s just that flexible.”

Presenting a Unique Brand Experience on Any Multimodal Device

Beyond providing additional screens of information and synchronized speech, Arkonovich knows how important brand recognition and consistency are to retain customers. In addition to leveraging APL’s flexible layouts for visuals, lists, and text to deliver the best multimodal experience possible, he’s created a look and feel that is unmistakably Big Sky—on every Alexa-enabled device.

“I used APL to create a visual framework that allowed me to present information in an engaging way,” says Arkonovich. “But I also wanted to make sure my customers know they are interacting with Big Sky, regardless of which device they use.”

Arkonovich presents simple yet striking information circles throughout the visual portion of the skill, making it unmistakably “Big Sky.” When these circles are displayed, either a voice command or a touch will reveal additional related data, such as the current wind speed or rainfall total.

“Before APL, what a user saw on a screen device was limited by the available display templates,” says Arkonovich. “But now as screen devices continue to grow in popularity, APL makes it easy to develop a custom look that adapts to each type of screen.”

Reaching More Customers While Expanding a Voice Business

In addition to enhancing the Big Sky experience on devices with screens, Arkonovich is excited about how APL fits into his future business strategy.

With APL’s built-in support for Fire TV and future devices, the multimodal Big Sky experience is already available to a much wider audience than before. He is planning to use other APL features to include voice-driven enhancements such as video and live weather radar. And because Big Sky’s in-skill purchasing option for a monthly subscription boasts a 50% conversion rate, getting the skill in front of a wider audience has a tremendous potential upside for Arkonovich’s voice business.

“APL lets developers be far more creative in how we bring our visions to life, while allowing us to reach more customers than ever before,” says Arkonovich. “That’s just good for business.”

Build Skills with APL, Enter the Alexa Skills Challenge: Multimodal

We’re thrilled to announce the Alexa Skills Challenge: Multimodal with Devpost, an opportunity for you to build a multimodal skill using APL and compete for $150K in cash and prizes. You can also earn a new Amazon device by just publishing an eligible APL skill. Learn more and enter the challenge by January 22.

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