Choosing The Best Skill Type For Your Needs

Alisha Everson Dec 30, 2020
Tips & Tools Build Beginner

Deciding what your skill’s purpose will be is the first, and arguably hardest, step to developing for Alexa. How do you want to engage your users? Is your skill’s purpose educational, entertainment, or something never-before-seen? What kind of voice interaction will best suit that purpose? While we can’t give you the answer, we can arm you with knowledge to help you decide for your specific skill! Read on to understand the different skill types at your developmental disposal, along with some common uses and their nuances. You can also refer to our tech doc on this subject, which focuses more on the interactions.

Skill Types

There are 7 different skill models you can select in the developer console when building a skill. However, the skill model isn’t the only thing to consider; there are other APIs and features you can leverage to further specify your skill type.

  • Custom Interaction Model Skills: Do I need full design control over my skill’s interaction model?
    • The custom skill type is a catch-all for everything not pre-defined. Nothing is pre-built, there are no directives defined for this skill type, and there is no requirement for design. This allows you, as a developer, to have the most control over the user experience and how your skill achieves its purpose. This is also generally the best option if none of the other skill types seem suitable for your idea.
      • Game skills
        • While there isn’t explicitly a Game Skill model, there are GitHub templates for game skills and some very cool, unique tools for game developers specifically. Actually, the lack of defined framework for game skills is exactly what maximizes the innovative potential on your side. Make an RPG, an interactive story game, quizzes, sound-based games where there is no voice interaction at all — the voice world is your oyster. You can even integrate a web component using the Alexa Web API, or just have a visual component on screen-based devices like the Echo Show. Game skills are also great for monetization, such as selling new game packs or consumables like extra lives.
        • Check out this blog post for an in-depth game development walk-through. Here is a good place to learn more and get started!
      • Audioplayer skills
        • Audioplayer skills have some overlap with flash briefing skills and Music and Radio skills, so make sure if this sounds promising to check out all sections. The audioplayer skill type gives a developer access to the audioplayer directives, allowing users to pause, rewind, or skip audio content. It’s great for longer audio content and structures your interaction model to support common user expectations around playback.
      • List Skills
        • List skills have a very specific purpose, which, as the name implies, is to add or remove items from a list. It allows a user to build and manage a list within your skill. As a developer, you can leave the functionality of your skill as just that, or you can use it as a sub-piece within a custom skill and have the full functionality of custom skills at your creative command. Basically, use this if you want your user to be making lists with your skill! Get creative - maybe your user needs a list within a game skill to keep track of items! You can even integrate it to Alexa Shopping or the built-in To-Do List function of Alexa.
  • Flash Briefing Skills (pre-built model): If my skill only delivers content, should users be able to interact with the content?
    • Flash briefing skills are great at delivering quick snippets of information or content to users. They have a super straightforward pre-built model: Read or play the feed as defined by the developer. You have complete freedom (within policies, of course) regarding your feed’s content. However, this is not a skill type that a user would interact in a turn-by-turn sort of engagement; it’s more of a one-and-done kind of interaction. You can also have multiple feeds for a flash briefing skill, but users can’t selectively choose feeds — it’s all or nothing. If your skill has longer audio or you want more interactive potential like pausing, check out the custom skill type Audioplayer skills.
  • Smart Home Skills (pre-built model): If my skill interacts with a device, do I want users to have to include my skill’s invocation name in their utterances?
    • The pre-built Smart Home model serves as a framework that is well-established within smart home products and negates the need for a user to invoke your skill using an invocation name and custom utterances. In addition, the voice-interaction model is already built, so most of the heavy lifting will be done for you as far as coding goes. That said, you won’t be able to flex your innovative muscles as much regarding how your user interacts with your skill. There is a big misconception that all smart home skills have to be of the smart home skill type. This isn’t true. If you would like to go beyond the pre-defined framework of the Smart Home model, you can absolutely build a smart home skill using a custom interaction model instead.
      • Cooking skills
        • If you’re creating a smart home skill directly targeting cooking appliances, the Alexa.Cooking interfaces may be just the right fit for you! The voice interaction model will already be built for you if you decide to utilize these. Keep in mind that you must be familiar with with how to create a Smart Home skill and write the code for a Lambda function that handles smart home requests from Alexa. For more information, see Steps to Create a Smart Home Skill. Check out this link for all available Alexa.Cooking interfaces.
      • Networking and Wi-Fi skills (US only)
        • If you’d like to create a smart home skill that models a home Wi-Fi network and the devices connected to it (such as computers and mobile phones), you can use the Alexa.Networking APIs. Your skill can then enable and disable internet and network access for individual devices on both Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections and schedule access duration, as well as enable and disable internet and network access on both Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections without removing devices from the Wi-Fi network. As with cooking skills, the voice interaction model will be pre-built for you. Check out this link for all available Alexa.Networking interfaces.
  • Music and Radio Skills (pre-built model) (US only): Does my audio skill only require a simple interaction model?
    • The music and radio skill types allow you to integrate your music or radio service with Alexa so that users can play music or radio from your catalog on Alexa-enabled devices. As with smart home skills, these provide a pre-built model for you to use as a way to bring your audio content to Alexa users. This means that when you build a music or radio skill, the voice interaction model is defined and handled for you, which can be a plus. If you’d like more flexibility, however, you can opt to use a custom interaction model with Audioplayer directives instead. That said, using the music or radio skill model allows your to rely on Alexa to innovate on the core audio and voice interaction experience while you focus on onboarding and optimizing your music service for Alexa.
    • Music skills can be created by anyone for distribution in the U.S., while radio skills can only be created by selected partners at this time. If you are a radio provider with an existing custom skill, you can contact your Amazon Business Development representative to get details on how to add the Music and Radio Skills API to that skill.
  • Video Skills (pre-built model): What if I want a skill with video content, but I want users to be able to interact with it with less friction?
    • Though you can use the custom interaction model to create a skill that focuses on video content, there are a number of advantages to using the video skill pre-built model: users can control experiences across devices and services they have or are subscribed to by voice (as Alexa will be aware of these through the Video Skill API), users can control video devices and consume video content without invoking a specific skill, you’re not required to parse voice utterances (as this work is done by Amazon's Alexa service), and the Video Skill API team provides documentation and code examples for getting started quickly.
  • Business Skills (US only): Should my skill be public or private?
    • If you’re a US developer, you can decide if your skill is better suited for a private audience versus the whole of Alexa’s user base (if you’re not a US developer but still want a private skill, we’ll address that in the next paragraph). There are a few different kinds of business skills you can choose from, but be aware, these require leveraging the Alexa for Business AWS program, which is not free. Learn more here. In its basic form, a Business skill allows a company to manage a fleet of Alexa devices, what skills are on them, and how they are being used, in addition to allowing development of skills that would only be available on those managed devices.
    • If you aren’t a US developer and you want skills privately available to a specific audience, there are workarounds. For larger audiences (up to 500 users), running a beta test and adding users by email is probably the most manageable approach, but if you only need a few people to have access to the skill, you can also explore adding those users directly to your developer account. With both of these approaches, you can keep your skill in development and have users enable and use the development version of the skill. Note, in order for any of your users to interact with the skill, it needs to have the language model of their devices. For example, if your users are all in Canada, make sure you’re using the EN-CA language model when you build your skill.
      • Residential and Hospitality Skills (US only)
        • Within business skills there are Residential and Hospitality skills, both of which require admission to their respective programs. Residential skills allow housing developers to provide Alexa-integrated smart homes upon move-in, and Hospitality skills allow developers to provide guests with Alexa-integrated experiences during their stays. With the exception of these skill types, it is against policy to provide commercial Alexa experiences.
      • Meetings Skills (US only)
        • Meetings skills allow users within an organization to search for and reserve meeting rooms through Alexa. You can create a private meeting skill through Alexa for Business or you can publish one publicly through the Skills Store. It’s important to keep in mind that Alexa for Business is only available in the U.S., so you can only build meetings skills in the U.S. as well. Whether you are a room-booking solution provider with an existing service, or whether your company has an internal service for employees to book meeting rooms, you can integrate your service with Alexa and create a meetings skill that fits your needs.
  • Education Skills (US only): Does my skill aim to provide customers with student-specific information about their education?
    • You can create an education skill to provide customers with information about their own or their children's recent grades, upcoming assignments, school communications, and more. If you are an education technology provider who maintains student information such as grades, coursework, or school communications, this skill type can be perfect for you. The great thing about education skills is that they don't replace any existing backend service that you may already be using for student information, they instead enable your users to access the existing information by using Alexa. For example, if you manage student data in a classroom management app and your users already have a username and password to log in to the app, you can build an education skill to provide your users with another option to retrieve the information that the app stores. It's important to note that education skills are only available for the en-US locale. 


Getting started can feel overwhelming. Hopefully reading through this has helped inspire you, but if you want to chat more about it, we’d love to help through our Contact Us page and for you to join us at our Alexa office hours on Twitch!

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