4 Tips for Designing Voice-First Alexa Skills for Different Alexa-Enabled Devices

Jaime Radwan Dec 18, 2018
Tips & Tools Multimodal

Alexa is now available on a range of devices, from speakers (like the Echo and Echo Dot), to smart screens (like Echo Spot and Echo Show), to widescreen televisions (like Fire TV and Fire TV Cube). This enables customers to interact with Alexa across more device types than ever before, each with their own form factor, context of use, and customer expectations.

Tailoring your skill experience across a range of devices, while considering the multi-device experience, can seem overwhelming. But by using the Alexa Presentation Language (APL), developers can more easily design and build a single voice-first, visual experience that will scale and adapt to each Alexa-enabled device, delivering a quality customer experience.

If you're ready expand the ways customers can engage with your Alexa skill and the range of devices they can use, there are a few things to consider as you start designing your skill experience. By identifying your customers' goals, selecting the appropriate devices, adapting and extending your skill to a range of devices, you can take systematic and thoughtful approach to multimodal skill design. Remember, you should always test your assumptions by putting your skill in front of customers and watching them use it. No matter what the experience or what device it's on, customers should always feel like they are interacting with the same skill.

These best practices can help you create quality skill experiences and get you ready for building on any Alexa-enabled device.

1. Understand Different Device Categories

It's important to think about the capabilities of each device category; speakers, smart screens (or hubs) and televisions. A speaker, because it doesn't typically have a screen, is a more voice-forward experience with customers primarily interacting with Alexa using their voice. A smart screen device has both a microphone and touch capabilities, enabling customers to interact primarily with voice, and then to use touch for secondary interactions when appropriate. Smart screens allow customers to easily interact with Alexa using voice from a distance or they can leverage touch interactions when they are closer to the device. TVs have an altogether different interaction model, with customers leveraging a five-way remote to interact with Alexa in addition to voice controls. Keep these differences in mind as you design your experience and image all the ways customer can interact with your skill.

2. Consider Your Customers' Goals

Before customizing your skill for a particular device, it's helpful to first start with the essential tasks your customer will be trying to achieve. For example, are they looking to get their horoscope every morning? Customers trying to get their horoscope might want to use devices that are in their bedroom or bathroom to align to their morning routine. Consider that the customer may not need to look at a screen in order to hear the day's horoscope, and a primarily voice-forward response would suffice. Is your customer searching for a dinner recipe as they move around their kitchen? Consider that this customer may want images of what the completed recipe looks like, paired with a text list of ingredients or skimmable cooking directions. You must identify the different customer goals across devices, and design a skill experience tailored to their needs. Remember, not all skills will make sense on all devices, so you can decide whether you want your experience to be voice only on a speaker, or a multimodal experience that scales across every Alexa-enabled device with a screen.

3. Take into Consideration Your Customer's Context

When deciding what devices you'll want to tailor your skill for, think about how customers use different types of devices. Some devices are geared toward a more private, single-user use case, such as an Echo Spot in the bedroom. Smart screens like the Echo Show and Fire TVs can have multiple customers simultaneously using the device at a given time or have shared usage where two or more customers may use a device at separate times. Think about whether your skill is for a single customer, multiple customers, or for a shared use. If your skill is best for multiple or shared use cases, you'll need to consider privacy and account linking where appropriate. No matter the experience, personalization can help customers feel like your skill was designed just for them.

4. Adapt Your Skill for Different Devices, But Maintain Consistent Design

By taking advantage of the viewport characteristics available in APL, you can adapt your skill's experience to fit each device. Alexa can generate different responses, including text-to-speech (TTS) and visual output, depending on a device's visual characteristics, delivering a skill that feels tailored to the specific device the customer is using it on. But consider how you will consistently adapt your experience across different devices. Consistent design focuses on having the same experience and content across every device. Consistency is not the same as making the experience identical across devices. Consistent experiences make it easier for customers who have interacted with your skill on other devices, meaning the customer only needs to learn how to use your skill once. It sets expectations for future interactions with your skill and builds customer confidence.

Designing for customer usage across multiple devices means the overall experience with your skill can be enhanced and extended. As you think through your voice design, make sure customers can effortlessly use your skill and always feel in control of the experience, no matter which Alexa-enabled devices you design for.

Now you're set to adapt your skill responsively, efficiently, and purposefully across different Alexa-enabled device categories. We can't wait to see what new things you bring to life with voice.

Enter the Alexa Skills Challenge: Multimodal

In addition to building a visually rich Alexa skill with APL, you can enter the Alexa Skills Challenge: Multimodal with Devpost and compete for cash prizes and Amazon devices. We invite you to participate and build voice-first multimodal experiences that customers can enjoy across tens of millions of Alexa devices with screens. Learn more, start building APL skills, and enter the challenge by January 22.

More Resources to Get Started with APL