Amazon is Retiring Alexa Display Templates for Multimodal Responsive Templates
Alexa is shifting all of its focus to a multimodal design by shutting down the Alexa Display templates in favor of Responsive Templates built on the Alexa Presentation Language (APL) introduced last year. Display templates only work on some Alexa-enabled devices and have a limited number of layouts, while the Responsive Templates are supported on any Echo or Fire device, as well as many smart displays and smart TVs built by other companies.
Display templates features will be officially sunset on Aug. 31. The skills won’t be removed from the Alexa Skill store but some of their functions won’t work anymore. Ahead of that date, Amazon has set up a streamlined process for converting the code to a Responsive template that supports APL and for getting recertified. APL lets developers combine Alexa speech with other audio and combine voices with sound effects. That audio can then be synced to the visuals of APL in layers. The audio can also be adjusted with volume filters to make sounds fade in and out or get cut off, depending on what’s happening in the app.
The newer models are also gaining some new text styles and formats that had only been accessible through the older Display templates. Amazon is trying to make the changeover relatively painless, but the migration was already underway organically. Multimodal skills using APL have already overtaken voice-only apps by a huge margin, according to Amazon. The APL skills count triple the average number of monthly active users of their purely audio siblings.
“APL templates are very easy to use and allow for a great degree of customization of visual skills,” Alexa multimodal product manager Arunjeet Singh. “In addition, APL templates support many more features than Display Templates, such as motion detection APIs. User engagement on APL based skills is at an all time high and APL based skills have seen an increase in active users since converting from Display Templates.”
Amazon has been building toward this point since APL became available. The company ran the Beyond Voice challenge specifically to encourage developers to experiment and come up with Alexa skills that added non-voice interactivity to their skills. Richard Matthews and his team at Vocala won the $20,000 grand prize for Voice Blast, a celebrity voice guessing game that combines visual and audio components. Six others earned smaller bonus prizes for their skills under different categories.
“Customer adoption of multimodal devices is growing, as millions of customers are choosing Alexa-enabled devices with screens,” Alexa product manager Racheal Chimbghandah explained in a blog post. “Responsive templates will help you create beautiful layouts that are responsive across screen sizes, and support is being added for new and additional third-party devices all the time through the Alexa Smart Screen SDK.”