Today, there are more than one million registered developers, brands, and device makers building with Alexa. To help the increasing number of skill builders make informed choices while developing their skill and get to market faster, Amazon is announcing important updates to the interface that guide developers through the skill creation process.
“Our team works closely with developers to get their feedback on how we can make building skills easier,” says Maitrayee Choubey, senior product manager on the Alexa Skills Tech team. “We’ve incorporated their feedback into this newest release of the Alexa skills builder.”
Choubey says that a core philosophy guiding the development of the new skills creation interface is to ensure that you are making the most informed decision possible. For example, you can choose to build off a pre-built voice interaction model or build a skill using a custom model.
The voice interaction model defines the words and phrases that users can say to Alexa to make the skill do what they want. Pre-built voice interaction models are a lower lift, where Alexa defines the set of utterances for each skill type for you. For example, a pre-built model for a music skill includes in-built functionalities that allow users to do things like skip to the next track or shuffle music, without you having to perform any additional coding. If you choose to use a custom voice interaction model to develop more nuanced experiences, you can define the phrases or utterances that enable users to interact with your skill.
Choubey says the new experience makes the skill creation process easier in several ways.
First, the prior experience didn’t provide developers with information on the capabilities of each voice interaction model. This often led to developers make the wrong choices when it comes to selecting a model – for example developers of podcast skills would often select pre-built “music” models that weren’t tailored for their use case. Or they would choose to proceed with a custom model that involved a substantially higher lift.
“In the past, you would be presented with an overwhelming variety of models options at the beginning of the skill creation process,” said Choubey. “Now we ask you questions related to your locale and the skill you are planning to develop. We then only present the models that are relevant for you, along with pertinent information related to each model.”
In addition to presenting relevant information, the new skills creation process also presents you with a “stepper” that provides a clear indication of where you are in the process at all times.
Hosting Alexa skills
Choubey says that the core philosophy of allowing you to make informed decisions also extends to decisions you have to make on how you want to host the skill. As an Alexa skills developer you have multiple options on how to want to host your skill.
You can create an Alexa-hosted skill, where Alexa stores your code and resources on Amazon Web Services (AWS) for you. You don't need an AWS account to create an Alexa-hosted skill. Alexa provisions the AWS resources that you need directly from the Alexa developer console. Alexa places your files and resources in an individual account, separate from the accounts of other users, and your files are never shared with other users. Alternatively, you can host a custom skill as an AWS Lambda function, or store your code and backend resources yourself.
“The current interface doesn’t make the pros and cons of each option clear to skill builders,” says Choubey. “With the new interface, you will be able to see the use case that is most appropriate for you. You can also see that a hosting-related decision you make doesn’t have to be a “one way door” – you can start with an Alexa hosted skill and move on to hosting your own skill once your skill usage grows.”
Choubey has worked on a variety of Alexa-related products and services during the course of her career – these include the first version of the Echo show, far-field Fire TV and Alexa Conversations. She says that working on the new Alexa skills creation process was one of the most meaningful programs in her career.
“When it comes to building with Alexa, the “why” is clear—it’s a great opportunity for you to get involved in defining the next generation of computing experiences,” she says. “However, the “how” of building skills has been challenging to many of our developers. I’m so proud to be part of the team that is democratizing skill creation for all developers.”