Understanding the Basics of Alexa Skills Development

By | January 3, 2018

Amazon Alexa provides a platform for users to answer questions, play music, access weather forecasts, and more. These functions are known as skills, which consumers can access easily by simply speaking to Alexa. In addition to using built-in skills, users can teach Alexa new skills using the Alexa Skills Kit.

Building New Skills

The first step users must take toward creating a new skill is to figure out exactly what the skill will do, which determines how it will be integrated with the Alexa service. Custom skills can be divided into several major categories: smart home skills, flash briefing skills, video skills, and list skills. When they create these skills, users also create custom interaction models to allow them to be used.

Skill Development

The way alexa skills development works is by allowing users to link requests to specific phrases that are mapped on the device according to intent, or invocation name. So, for example, a request to order a car would be mapped under an OrderCar intent. Skills can be developed using a combination of voice, touch, and visual interactions or they can be called up using only voice with no screen functionality.

Smart Home Skills

Custom skills that are designed to control smart home devices like lights, cameras, thermostats, locks, and smart TVs can be created using the Alexa Smart Home Skill API, which simplifies the design process by allowing users to create skills without the need for voice user interfacing. The Smart Home Skill API can be used to define what device directives the skill can handle and what words customers can use to invoke those directives. It is also somewhat limited, though, in that it can only respond to device directives that are supported by the API.

Flash Briefing Skills

The Flash Briefing Skill API provides content for customers’ flash briefing. It defines what words are used to invoke requests and names, descriptions, and images for flash briefing skills. Flash briefing skills can contain either audio content or text content read by Alexa and can incorporate multiple content feeds.

Video Skills

Video skills enable users to request content like TV shows and movies. The Video Skill API defines invocations, video descriptions, and images to help customers choose skills from the skill store. This skill can play and search for video content and can define how search results for video content display.

List Skills

List skills can be created using the Alexa Skills Kit Command Line Interface, or ASK CLI. These list skills can include custom components and features. The ASK CLI allows users to add and remove items from lists, update items, and define how handlers process and respond to list events.

Commercial Applications for Alexa Skills

There are a variety of alexa voice apps for business owners and employees. These allow employees to utilize the Alexa platform to work more efficiently. Before making use of custom Alexa skills at work, employees must learn how to interact with the platform appropriately.

Understanding Alexa Interactions

All uses of the Alexa platform require either voice or touch interactions, and commercial applications are no different. Using custom-built skills requires that users include the name identifying the skill, and any devices required to perform the action must be connected to the Internet. Those creating custom skills can think of Alexa’s interaction model as analogous to a traditional app’s graphical user interface.

Voice User Interface

While typical graphic user interfaces are activated when users click a button, voice user interfaces are activated by spoken words or phrases. Voice interactions must include the skill’s invocation names in order to invoke the correct skill. Additionally, there are certain phrases that are built into Alexa’s interaction models so that turning on the lights in a specific room is as simple as asking Alexa to turn on the lights on the office.

Marketing Skills

Creators of Alexa skills must create developer portal accounts prior to marketing these new skills. This portal collects relevant information such as the name of the custom skill, the desired API, and the skill’s endpoint.

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