Amazon Adds Third-Party Voice Apps to Alexa Routines
Amazon Alexa skill developers can now incorporate their app into Alexa routines. Routines are single commands that carry out multiple actions in a set order. In addition, Alexa has a suite of new developer tools to improve how well those voice apps understand user voices.
Daily Routine of Skills
Alexa device owners can set up routines on the Alexa app to play out a series of actions based on a voice command, alarm or another trigger. Alexa routines already existed for native Alexa skills, but the addition of third-party skills to routines makes the potential combinations much broader for consumers. For instance, saying good morning to Alexa could previously start a news briefing and weather report, but now might activate a third-party birdsong playlist and place an order for a drink at Starbucks. Amazon suggests routines are particularly appropriate for apps that add new content regularly or have long-form audio.
The ability to activate custom skills through routines was the top-voted item from Amazon’s developer community feature request site. It’s understandable why developers are so keen on the idea. Not having to invoke each skill individually increases the chances that a user will access the skill more often and increase daily engagement. It also gives skill developers who have premium options more opportunities to sell and could allow skill developers overall the opportunity to earn more points in the Alexa Developer Rewards program because of increased usage.
Understanding Speech and Stats
Shortly after the expansion of Alexa’s routines, Amazon announced three new ways for developers to improve and update their Alexa skills. One is the NLU Evaluation Tool which tests speech to see how well the voice app understands what is said compared to what the developer is expecting. The tool avoids the trap of overtraining with too many samples and instead zeroes in on likely commands, focusing the AI’s training and making it better at interpreting the kinds of speech it will need to turn into actions. The evaluation can also incorporate new features and commands into the model without starting from scratch. The second new tool is the Utterance Conflict Detection, which performs a related, but not identical function. This software checks for statements that might connect to more than one action, potentially confusing the AI and leading to mistakes in the skill.
Last is the Get Metrics API, which is still in beta. It adds new ways for Alexa developers to look at and analyze their app’s performance. Developers can measure unique customers in new places like Amazon Web Services CloudWatch and keep a better eye on changes in the Alexa Skills market that might affect who and in what way people use their skills.
“These tools help complete the suite of Alexa skill testing and analytics tools that aide in creating and validating your voice model prior to publishing your skill, detect possible issues when your skill is live, and help you refine your skill over time,” Amazon product marketing manager Leo Ohannesian said in the blog announcing the new tools. “Begin working with the three new tools in order to create an optimal customer experience.”
These Alexa Skills Kit tools are more behind-the-scenes than the new routines feature, but all of the updates aim to increase user engagement and improve the user experience. Skills that understand what a user is trying to say more quickly and with fewer mistakes along the way are going to be more widely used and recommended than skills that aren’t as refined.
Alexa developers regularly get new tools from Amazon as the company is keen to expand its developer community, offering rewards for adding new users and other bonuses along the way. Amazon recently made it easier to connect Alexa skills to smart toys and other gadgets and made it easier to connect mobile accounts to Alexa skills. Considering how Alexa now includes more than 100,000 skills in its store, which is significantly more than rivals like Siri and Google Assistant, these efforts appear to be paying off.