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Amazon Unleashes Dozens of Alexa Developer Improvements

Posted July 22, 2020 | Amazon | Amazon Alexa | Dev | smart home | Windows


At its Alexa Live 2020 virtual event today, Amazon has announced dozens of new features for developers targeting the Alexa voice assistant. The new features come at a good time because the COVID-19 pandemic has increased voice assistant usage dramatically, Amazon says. And while the firm lacks direct attachment to a popular mobile platform like Android or iOS, much of the new usage is coming from those stuck at home.

Here’s a sampling of what’s new.

Alexa for Apps (Preview). This lets developers take users into their mobile apps on Android or iOS directly from their Alexa skill. “With Alexa for Apps added to a custom skill, customers who make requests using the Alexa app, Alexa built-in phones, or Alexa mobile accessories such as Echo Buds, can use their voice to interact with mobile apps,” Amazon says. “Key use cases include using voice to quickly search, view more information, and access any functionality inside your app. Alexa for Apps is easy to implement with any app that can be opened with deep links, and is already being added to experiences for TikTok, Yellow Pages, Uber, Sonic, Zynga, Volley, and others.”

Alexa Conversations (Beta). This new feature helps developers create more natural-feeling Alexa skills with fewer lines of code. “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 experience,” Amazon explains.

APL for Audio (Beta). This extends existing audio frameworks to add new audio mixing capabilities that let you use Alexa to mix speech, sound effects, music, and other audio at runtime on all Alexa-enabled devices, Amazon says. “You can create delightful customer experiences such as weather skills that mix sound effects based on the forecast or immersive games that dynamically generate sound effects based on player inputs.”

New customer experiences. This is a laundry list of new features, including app-to-app account linking from the Alexa app, app-to-app account linking from an Android app, a Person Profile API, and a preview version of Limit Access to help verify which voice profile is accessing your skill. You can learn more here.

Alexa Web API for Games. The Web API lets you can create “visually impressive, animated, multimodal Alexa games using HTML5, Web Audio, CSS, and JavaScript;” you can also create 3D experiences with WebGL. Learn more here.

Quick Links for Alexa (Beta) and new in-skill purchasing options. This new capability is available in the United States and lets you add a link from your mobile app, website, or online ads that customers can click to launch your skill. “This makes it easy for customers to access your skill, and easy for you to track conversion from online ads,” Amazon says.

Alexa Presentation Language (APL) 1.4. The next version of the Alexa Presentation Language (APL) lets you build interactive visual experiences with new capabilities and improved tooling. APL 1.4 adds editable text boxes, drag and drop UI controls, and back navigation so customers can return to previous screens, Amazon explains.

Skill resumption (Preview). Skill resumption allows users to return to a skill after a short break or even after using Alexa to complete a separate task. “With skill resumption, customers can enable your skill to resume automatically when your Alexa skill has new information to provide – such as the arrival of their Uber or time elapsed in a workout – or customers can simply ask for an update,” Amazon writes.

Name-Free Interaction (NFI) Toolkit. This new toolkit makes it easier for users to find and open skills without having to remember and say the skill’s name. “Alexa uses keywords, skill descriptions, and categories to surface relevant skills when customers say things like ‘play an adventure game’,” Amazon notes. “We’re continuously improving name-free interaction for customers so they can find a skill without using the skill’s name.”

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