Amazon Introduces Skill Connections so Alexa Skills Can Work Together
Amazon announced this morning in a blog post a new developer preview for Skill Connections. This is a very important development for the voice industry as a whole. Skill Connections enable Alexa skills to work in concert to help users. An example cited by Amazon depicts how this may work in practice.
If you have a skill that sells last-minute show tickets using Amazon Pay, you could offer to book a taxi to the show, or a café spot for after-show dessert.
To fulfill the taxi booking or restaurant reservation, you would simply pass the user along to Uber or OpenTable to complete that transaction. It is a value-add and potentially offers the opportunity for a referral fee.
Action-Entity Pairs Make Skill Connections Work
Other examples include printing a recipe by connecting the Allrecipes and HP Alexa skills or connecting a game skill to print out results. Linking two skills requires a pre-defined “action-entity pair.” Today, there are five action-entity pairs available in the developer preview:
- Print <Image>
- Print <PDF>
- Print <WebPage>
- Schedule <FoodEstablishmentReservation>
- Schedule <TaxiReservation>
An Amazon spokesperson confirmed today that both parties must be aware of the Skill Connections pairing to work. Currently, only OpenTable, Uber and HP are supporting the pass-through requests. Epson and Canon have committed to supporting print services.
The new capability also relies on skill auto-enablement. “If your skill connection request requires a skill the customer has not used before, Alexa will offer to enable it for the customer.” You can apply to participate in the preview here.
A Significant Advance for Voice Apps
This is a significant advance for voice apps overall and has been long anticipated by developers. Today, the only way an Alexa skill can fulfill a user intent (i.e. a need) is to provide the capability from within the skill itself. By definition, that limits what any one skill can do for a user. Skill Connections is first example of two third-party speciality Alexa skills working in concert to meet the needs of a user. What this means for developers is that they can serve users from their own Alexa skill as well as serve users of other Alexa skills that need that service on occasion. In that latter case, the user doesn’t even need to know about the skill that can fulfill the intent, discovery is taken care of by referral.
The current implementation is very narrow. However, what is important is that the framework for skill-to-skill integration is being put into place. Amazon indicates that other action-entity pairs will be offered, but it is clear that the company will never be able to publish the variety of pairs that will be requested. Eventually you should expect a feature where skill publishers can offer action-entity pairs to other developers as an easy integration option similar to how applications today publish publicly available APIs.