Amazon Will Remove the Alexa Skill Beta Test, What Does That Mean for Alexa Developers?
Amazon has informed Alexa developers that it is bringing the Skill Beta Test feature to an end this summer. The abrupt announcement has yet to be added to the Alexa Skill Kit documentation as of publication. It raises some questions among the Alexa developer community about what it may portend for the voice assistant’s future, particularly in light of Google sunsetting Conversational Actions next month.
Alexa Skills Beta Test
The Alexa Skill Beta Test has been a popular and relatively quick way for voice app developers to get feedback and test their creation before it was released. Some see it as crucial for maintaining a professional level of performance from Alexa Skills. Without it, the voice assistant’s apps may not be as appealing to brands that have built and tested their skills with the feature. No more beta tests can be made starting in June, and all of them will be shut down for good on August 15.
“Professional developers, organizations, and enterprises count on beta testing to get feedback during skill development and to test functionality before a skill is released,” said the Alexa Skill developer who alerted Voicebot to Amazon’s plans and asked to remain anonymous. “By taking away this feature, the Alexa platform becomes more hobbyist than professional. If you were to ask Alexa Developers, there is a list of features that we would want [to be] added to beta testing, and removing the feature is definitely something we did not want. This follows a series of such announcements, such as Healthcare Skills and Amazon Pay deprecations. It feels like we are entering a phase with Alexa where if a bug is found in a feature, it is just as likely that the feature will be deprecated as it is that the bug will be fixed.”
The developer raised the specter of Google’s move to sunset Google Conversational Actions in favor of Android apps. The equivalent at Amazon would be a major downshift in voice AI as Amazon has no equivalent of the Android ecosystem of devices. Amazon’s major layoffs in the devices division in November provoked similar concerns as that was where Alexa and its associated products are organized. The Alexa Ambient and Health and Wellness divisions were outright shut down, and many others shrank. That said, reading Alexa’s future from the end of one feature may be premature.
“I was surprised since to the best of my knowledge, the beta testing feature is pretty widely used among developers. I use it a lot. I heard there is a workaround, but it sounded as though the workaround was fairly cumbersome,” Chatables co-founder Amy Stapleton told Voicebot. “I’m not sure what the deprecation of the feature says about Amazon’s Alexa skill strategy. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a fairly minor feature. It does strike me as odd though that they’d just turn it off without having a robust replacement.”
And not every developer liked the feature, with a couple of anonymous developers pointing to friction in its setup reducing usage. Others see it as not mich of a big deal in terms of how developers create and test their skills, with the beta test option appealing only to a relatively narrow group of creators.
“I think the beta testing tool hasn’t been working as expected for some time as it might be linked to other Amazon systems the skills teams can’t control. I think the intended use of the tool from an Amazon perspective was for it to be used to allow groups of public testers before pushing your skill live. In truth, I think it’s more used by agencies and developers to give their clients access to skills before they go live,” another developer who asked to withhold their name said. They later followed up after reading more messages, saying, “I think a new system is on its way to replace beta testing, but it’s not ready.”
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