Alexa Can Now Invoke Skills without a Launch Request, Some Google Actions Can Do This Too
- You can now invoke Alexa skills without using a launch request, just say Alexa + skill invocation name
- This same feature also works on Google Assistant for some Actions
- The wake word plus voice app name reduces the number of words and time required to launch an Alexa skill or Google Action
- It also removes a key training item that sometimes confused users in terms of what request phrase to use and led to invocation errors
Amazon Alexa can now invoke skills without a launch request, known in Alexa developer documentation as IntentRequest. In Google Assistant documentation this is referred to as of the “trigger phrase.” A typical Alexa session invocation is typically made up of three parts: “[WAKE WORD], [INTENT REQUEST] [SKILL INVOCATION NAME].” For example, “Alexa, launch Voicebot Says.” The wake word is Alexa. An intent request is typically a verb or action phrase such as “launch,” “talk to,” or “open.” The skill invocation name is the name of the third-party Alexa skill the user wishes to invoke. Ahmed Bouzid, founder and CEO of Witlingo, recently discovered that you can invoke skills without the Intent Request and captured it on video.
Google Action Invocation without Launch Request
This same model is also enabled by Google Assistant today although maybe in a more limited fashion. In testing, we were able to invoke Voicebot Says and Farmer’s Almanac on Google Home simply by saying “Hey Google” plus the Google Action name. However, this did not work with many Actions and there were several attempts where Google didn’t recognize the request despite a clear articulation of the Action name. For example, Google Assistant hijacked my attempt at opening the Walmart Action and instead offered to tell me the address of local Walmart store locations.
Google Assistant didn’t understand different requests in several other instances, but was successful for a number of Actions such as Lucky Trivia and Wait Wait Quiz. To be fair, the direct launch without a request does not work with all Alexa skills either, but a small sampling suggested it has a higher rate of success. The video below shows two successful attempts at invoking Google Actions without using a full trigger phrase with a launch request.
Simplifying Alexa Skill Invocation, Enabling Faster Access
This seemingly small change is actually quite significant. First of all, to enable invocation without a launch request suggests there has been an architectural update to how Alexa operates and maybe Google Assistant as well. The IntentRequest was an instruction to Alexa that indicated how the utterance following it should be interpreted. Those instructions appear to no longer be necessary in many circumstances.
Second, removing the IntentRequest requirement makes interacting with Alexa and Google Assistant more efficient. Users are required fewer words to access the desired skill. This is consistent with Alexa’s Brief Mode which rolled out in 2018 and makes Alexa less verbose to enable faster interactions. Witlingo’s Ahmed Bouzid commented in a Voicebot interview this morning:
“I think that doing away with the artificial ‘ask,’ ‘launch,’ ‘open’ is a great step in the right direction. From the limited experimentation done by the Witlingo team, it seems to work with both Alexa skills that are enabled by the user as well as skills that are not, which is impressive. However, it doesn’t seem to work for every skill and it’s not clear why it works for some and not others. But then again, to be fair, this is not an announced upgrade, if the Alexa team is indeed working on an upgrade.”
Reducing Alexa Skill Invocation Errors
An underappreciated benefit of this change may well be fewer invocation errors. The IntentRequest is often an issue when attempting to invoke a skill. Some of those issues arise because users don’t know what terms to use that Alexa’s IntentRequest or Google Assistant will reliably interpret correctly. Should they use “open,” “talk to,” or “launch”? Do users know what the options are? Users sometimes are confused as well if they use multiple voice assistants because the intents don’t always work in the same manner. Yes, you can use “launch” to access Voicebot Says on both Alexa and Google Assistant, but “open” will not work on Google Assistant while using a smartphone while it will on Google Home and through Alexa. Is “launch” a term that most voice assistant users are familiar with? What about “talk to”?
Alexa’s and Google Assistant’s intent models are supposed to offer users wide latitude in how they express their IntentRequest or trigger phrase, but all Alexa skill and Google Action developers have faced the challenge of users saying they can’t access their skill or Action and the launch request is sometimes the culprit. This frustrates users as much as developers. The number one quality consumers want from smart speakers is for the voice assistant to understand them when they speak.
Eliminating the IntentRequest and full trigger phrase requirements remove one potential point of error in the invocation. It also offers Alexa and Google Assistant less data to work with, but apparently, Amazon and Google have figured out relatively reliable ways to go straight from wake word to skill or Action name and give users what they want faster.