2021 Feature Release Roundup

Chihiro Tatara Dec 20, 2021
Release Roundup Alexa

This blog is a roundup of all the new Alexa Skill Kit related features released in 2021. We’ve had a busy year releasing the largest amount of developer features and tools yet. While some features are in private previews, this roundup details all generally available features and other features that are in public beta. You can find a preview of these new features below, with even more information available in the blog post and tech docs linked to each feature.

New Language: Arabic GA 

Developers can use the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) to build skills for customers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) using the new Arabic (SA) language model. Supported skill types are Custom, Flash Briefing, Smart Home, Music and Video.

Blog: How to Update Your Alexa Skills for Arabic

Alexa Live 2021

On Wednesday, July 21, we kicked off the third-annual Alexa Live developer conference and introduced the largest amount of developer features and tools we’ve ever announced at one time. These tools and features will make it easier to drive discovery, growth, and engagement, unlock more ways to delight customers, and address a few key focus areas. Check out our blog, release round up and keynote for details.

Blog: Introducing More Than 50 Features to Build Ambient Experiences, Drive Growth With Alexa
Alexa Live 2021 Release Roundup:Alexa Live 2021 Release Roundup
Alexa Live 2021 KeyNote:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wgeiwl1XHeQ

Custom Skills

Multi-Value Slots (MVS)

Enable MVS on the developer console and make your conversations more natural with just a single slot in your sample utterance! You can now use multiple-value slots to collect multiple values from a user utterance into a single slot, eliminating the need to use multiple custom slot values in a single utterance. MVS is available in en-US, en-CA, en-GB and en-AU.

Technical Documentation: Collect Multiple Values in a Slot

Blog: Now Available: Use Multi-Value Slots to build more Natural conversations

Fun Speaking Style for Japan

The Fun Speaking Style is a new speaking style exclusively for Japan, suitable for games, anime, entertainment and storytelling. The Fun speaking style uses Neural TTS (NTTS) technology and tailors Alexa’s voice to be brighter and more nuanced by changing aspects of Alexa’s speech, such as pitch, intonation, which words are emphasized, and the timing of pauses.

Technical Documentation: SSML - amazon:domain

Blog: New Fun Speaking Style for Japan

Alexa Entities GA

Alexa Entities is a new suite of tools that provides access to information about popular entities, including people, places and things from Alexa’s Knowledge Graph. With Alexa Entities, you can now resolve strings in a customer’s utterance to common entities from a built-in catalog, using those entities as an entry point to traverse Alexa’s structured knowledge. Alexa Entities is currently supported for all customers with 15 built-in slot types in en-US, en-AU, en-CA, en-IN, en-GB, fr-FR, de-DE, it-IT and es-ES locales.

Technical Documentation: Alexa Entities Reference

Blog: Alexa Entities Launches to General Availability

Code Sample: AlexaEntitiesCookbookExample

Alexa Conversations GA (en-US)

The Alexa Conversations dialog manager for the Alexa Skills Kit is now generally available in the en-US locale. Alexa Conversations is a new AI-driven approach to dialog management that enables you to create skills that customers can interact with in a natural, less constrained way – using the phrases they prefer, in the order they prefer – while freeing you to focus on the highest value parts of your skill experience. Alexa Conversations is currently offered as beta for en-AU, en-CA, en-IN, en-GB, de-DE and ja-JP locales.

Technical Documentation: About Alexa Conversations

Blog: Announcing General Availability for Alexa Conversations

Tutorial: Learn Alexa Conversations

Alexa Knowledge Skills GA (en-US)

Alexa Knowledge Skills are generally available for personal use, Alexa for Business, and Alexa for Hospitality devices in the US. You can create and distribute Knowledge Skills for use on devices managed by Alexa for Business, or enable them on your personal devices. Knowledge Skills is a new no-code skill type that allow anyone to build robust Q&A skills in minutes using only spreadsheets. Knowledge Skills target business use-cases, and help employees, customers, and visitors ask Alexa questions about an organization's data—like org charts, building information, events schedules, FAQs, glossaries, products, menus, projects, and more. 

You can use Alexa’s Skill Management API (SMAPI) to manage Knowledge skills. SMAPI supports five actions related to Knowledge skills: creating Knowledge skills (e.g. for organizational charts, products, or projects), importing data, retrieving import status, retrieving template IDs, and enabling Knowledge skills on devices.

Technical Documentation: Knowledge Skill Overview

Blog: Announcing Alexa Knowledge Skills for Alexa for Business and Personal Devices (Generally Available): Build Q&A Skills In Minutes Using Only Spreadsheets, Without Writing CodeAlexa Knowledge Skills is now available using SMAPI

Paid Skills GA  (en-US)

Paid Skills is generally available in the US as a new way for developers to monetize digital products and content for Alexa customers. With Paid Skills, you can build a custom skill that generates revenue by requiring customers to make an up-front purchase to access the skill. Customers can purchase your skill in the Alexa Skills Store or by asking Alexa to buy the skill. Customers pay for skills by using the payment options associated with their Amazon account. You can also offer a free trial so that customers can preview the skill content for a limited time before purchasing.

Technical Documentation: Understand Paid Skills

Blog: Developers can now start building Alexa Paid Skills in the US


Visual Studio Alexa Skill Toolkit - Support for Non-hosted Skills

Alexa Skills Toolkit (ASK Toolkit) previously only supported Alexa-hosted skills. Now, the new ASK Toolkit supports non-hosted skills, including the ability for you to create, download and edit your skill packages. Note that the ASK toolkit only downloads the skill package. You must download the AWS Lambda functions separately, using either the AWS CLI or the AWS Console.

Technical Documentation: Create and Manage Skills in Visual Studio Code

Alexa-hosted Skill Code Import

If you have skill code you developed using offline tools, such as the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) Command Line Interface (CLI) or VS Code, you can import the skill code into the lambda folder in the Alexa-hosted skill repository. Note that the import only brings in the skill code - other artifacts, such as the voice interaction model and skill manifest, aren't imported.

Technical Documentation: Import your skill code

Sync Locales and Locale clone

Sync locales and Locale clone will help adding additional locales of the same language to your custom skills. Sync locales automatically duplicates your custom-skill locale assets to additional locales of the same language. Locale clone duplicates your custom-skill locale assets to additional locales of the same language. When you use these feature, you choose a primary locale and a set of secondary locales.

Technical Documentation: Add Additional Locales of the Same Language to Custom SkillsClone a Skill Locale(SMAPI)

APL Updates and Retirement of Display Templates

Deprecation of Display Templates

We deprecated Display templates features on Aug. 31, 2021 to allow greater support of multimodal devices through the Alexa Presentation Language (APL). If you haven't, please plan to migrate to APL as soon as possible. We have simplified the process of converting your existing code to support APL with Responsive Templates. Responsive templates will help you create beautiful layouts that are responsive across screen sizes, and support is being added for new and additional third-party devices all the time through the Alexa Smart Screen SDK.

Technical Documentation: Replace display templates with responsive templates

Blog: Goodbye Display Templates, Hello Alexa Responsive Templates

APL 1.6

APL 1.6 include APL authoring tool improvements, updates to the responsive components and templates. We have added support for converting Lottie files to be used in your visual responses and custom Pager transitions. 

Technical Documentation: What's New in APL 1.6

Blog: Let’s Get Moving! Create Rich Customer Experiences Using New Motion Features Available in APL 1.6.


In Alexa Live we announced several new features in the APL that enable you to create great new experiences for your customers. APLA is now generally available (GA)! From APL1.7, APLA can be used in a reprompt (a second prompt given when a user doesn’t respond to your first prompt). We also no longer down-sample the audio when responding on devices that can support it which means your customers can listen to your audio as it was meant to be heard.

Technical Documentation: What's New in APL 1.7
Blog: Every New APL Feature Announced at Alexa Live

APL 1.8

We launched two new viewport profiles optimized for the Echo Show 15: hubLandscapeExtraLarge and hubPortraitMedium. These new profiles enable you to create custom layouts for new screen sizes and adapt responses as devices flip between portrait and landscape orientations. We also improving support for loading images, videos, and vector graphics. Image and Vector Graphic components now have onLoad/onFail events, and Video components now support onTrackReady, onTrackFail, and onTrackUpdate events. These events allow APL commands to be run when any sources load, fail to load, or change status.

Technical Documentation: What's New in APL 1.8
Blog: How You Can Build with Amazon's Newest Devices & ServicesOptimizing Your Multimodal Experiences on the New Echo Show 15

APL 1.9

APL 1.9 update include authoring tool improvements and new mobile viewport profiles. The authoring tool now displays Code View and GUI View tabs, to make it easier to edit your document in different modes. The authoring tool now also includes Add Component and Delete Component buttons, to make it more clear how you add items to the document while working in the GUI view. 

Technical Documentation: What's New in APL 1.9

Trimming Audio with APL for Audio 

APL for Audio 0.91  includes a new duration property and a repeat filter. These new features allow you to match background audio to the exact length of another component, repeat a section of your response a fixed number or times, or infinitely repeat an audio clip up to the maximum response length (currently 240 seconds).

Technical Documentation: APL for Audio Reference

Blog: Trim Audio to Items of Variable Length Using New Features in APL for Audio (beta)

Smart Home

Alexa Energy Dashboard

The Alexa energy dashboard lets customers track and manage the estimated energy consumed by their compatible Alexa-connected smart home devices. The Alexa energy dashboard supports a variety of lights, switches, plugs, TVs, water heaters, thermostats and Echo devices. You can now use the new APIs to proactively report your device’s energy consumption to Alexa, or let Alexa estimate the energy used by your devices. This is available in the en-US locale.

Technical Documentation: Smart Home Energy Skill Overview

Blog: Now Available: Enable Your Customers to Track and Manage their Devices’ Energy Usage with the Alexa Energy Dashboard

New Works with Alexa (WWA) Badge and Requirements

The WWA program ensures your Alexa-connected devices provide a great customer experience, increasing customer awareness and confidence in your products and brand. A new WWA badge design has been announced, and you can download the WWA badge from the resources section of the Alexa Certification Console. A few new requirements have been added, including App-to-App Account Linking.

Technical Documentation: Works with Alexa Overview

Blog: Introducing New Works with Alexa (WWA) Badge and Requirements

Alexa.ProactiveNotificationSource Interface (en-US)

Alexa can now make device status announcements with Alexa.ProactiveNotificationSource interface. Supported smart devices must use Alexa.RangeController, Alexa.ModeController or Alexa.Cooking interfaces. Alexa can notify a user when their washing machine cycle completes, or when their oven reaches the target preheat temperature.

Technical Documentation: Alexa.ProactiveNotificationSource Interface
Blog: Introducing Smart Home Device Status Announcements

As always, we can't wait to see what you build. If you are new to Alexa Skills Kit, please check out our documentation and tutorials.

Related Links

2021 Q1 Feature Release Roundup