Category Archives: Mobile App Development

What do Android App Developers need to know about Alexa Skills?

What Do Android App Developers need to know about Alexa Skills

Amazon has developed Alexa as an intelligent personal assistant for a variety of devices. Alexa enables users to accomplish a number of tasks – play music, get information, access news, manage shopping lists and operate smart home devices – simply using their voice. At present, Alexa supports several mobile platforms including Android. The users have option to download Alexa app for Android from both Google Play Store and Amazon Appstore. They can even use the Alexa App to manage their devices more efficiently with voice commands.

The latest version of the mobile app further enables users to communicate with their Echo devices by making calls or sending text messages. Amazon currently allows users to choose from over 15000 skills or voice experiences. The users even have option to install specific skills to interact with specific smart appliances or access specific apps, websites, or services. Amazon further allows developers to create and upload new Alexa skills using Alexa Skills Kit (ASK).

The tools, APIs, code snippets, and documentation provided by ASK help programmers to simplify and accelerate Alexa skill development. The Android app developers also have option to develop a variety of skills for Alexa. However, it is important for the Android App Developers to understand various aspects of Alexa skill development.

Understanding Important Aspects of Alexa Skill Development

Types of Alexa Skills

An Android app developer has option to develop a variety of skills for Alexa – custom skills, smart home skills, flash briefing skills and video skills. A custom skill must have the capability to handle any user request, whereas a smart home skill must enable users to operate/control cloud-enabled smart-home devices. A flash briefing skill needs to provide original content for a user’s flash briefings, while a video skill must enable users to find and access video content without invoking any specific skill.

Specific APIs

Alexa Skills Kit allows developers to choose from a wide range of self-service APIs. The Android app developer needs to use specific APIs according to the type of Alexa skill he wants to develop. For instance, while developing a smart home skill, the developer must use the Smart Home Skill API. The Smart Home Skill API defines the requests to be handled by the skill and the voice commands required to invoke the skills. The Android app developer must use the Video Skill API to develop video skills and the Flash Briefing Skill API to create flash briefing skills.

Voice User Interface

Amazon requires developers to focus extensively on voice user interface (VUI) while developing a new Alexa skill. The VUI creates custom voice experiences and enables users to interact with devices through voice input. While developing a new Alexa skill, the Android app developer must keep in mind the latest trends in VUI development – natural language understanding (NLU), automatic speech recognition (ASR), text to speech (TTS), machine learning, and Internet of Things (IoT). Also, he must refer to the Amazon Alexa Voice Design Guide to create skills that deliver voice experience based on human conversation.

Interaction Model

While developing an Alexa skill, the Android app developers must keep in mind the differences between voice user interface (VUIs) and conventional graphical user interfaces (GUIs). Unlike Android apps, the Alexa skill will require users to make requests using their voice and respond to the user requests by voice. Hence, the Android app developers have to learn how to make the Alexa skill interactive without including buttons, display boxes, and select options. They can use specific APIs to make the skills avail built-in interaction models. But the developers have to define their own interaction models while developing custom skills.

Steps to Create a New Alexa Skill

The Android app developers also need to learn and remember the steps in Alexa skill development. The steps may vary according to the type of Alexa skill. But the developer must follow the steps exactly to accelerate Alexa skill development. For instance, while developing a custom skill, the developers has to follow six important steps – design a VUI, set up the skill in developer portal, build interaction model using the voice design, write and test the source code of the skill, beta test the skill, and submit the skill for certification. The Android app developer must take advantage of the Alexa Skills Kit to follow the most appropriate skill building process.

Recently, Amazon announced its plan to reward skill developers based on the customer usage. It has already started rewarding game skill developers. Hence, the Android app developers can earn money by developing new Alexa skills. They can even measure the customer usage of a skill based on a number of parameters – number of new customers and average minutes of usage.

 

Gearing up for an “App”y Shopping

On Monday when I tried to open Myntra on my laptop, I was in for a big surprise. In bold letters it said,

DOWNLOAD THE MYNTRA APP NOW
Your choice. Your taste. Your style.
All on your most personal device.

Obviously, I hadn’t followed up on the news and was oblivious to the fact that Myntra had shut down its website on 15th May 2015 and became an App only platform. It is rumored that Flipkart the parent company of Myntra would also follow suit in almost a year. Buoyed by the fact that almost 95% of the traffic at Myntra takes the mobile route and mobile commerce contributes to 70% of their sales, Myntra is all set for the metamorphosis. Recent proliferation of smartphones and tablets (especially in tier II and III cities) and greater access to the internet via broadband, 3G, 4G etc helped build the foundation of an ever growing online consumer base in India.
According to a recent Morgan Stanley report, ecommerce penetration in India is set to grow from 9% in 2013 to 36% by 2020 and most of it being contributed by mobile users. Indeed, I remember, one of my friends was busy adding items to the shopping on a popular ecommerce site on his iPhone coz he would get X% discount more for shopping via the mobile app. Agreed, most of us are deal hunters and we swim with the current but who wouldn’t like a bit of a personalization. With eCommerce companies encouraging customers to download and use the mobile app, it certainly means that app only culture is in the offing. Only Myntra is the first eCommerce company in the world to implement this bold step.
Needless to say, shopping is a personal experience and Myntra is trying to cash in on this. However, personalizing this experience to a level that it is only available on your personal device could actually make or mar the profits of the company. Not all users are of the same composition. While some would feel irritated of the constant notifications indicated by a beeping handheld device, there would be others who would feel neglected with very few notifications. It all depends upon Myntra now to hold and keep its customers on its mobile because we all know that an app can be deleted with greater ease than what was required to download it. Also, there is a fine line that separates engagement from intrusion.
I have shopped on Myntra a good number of times in the past and I was happy with the experience. I may even download the app for now. But whether I will shop only from Myntra is a matter of “choice”. This is because I cannot change my shopping habit. I love to browse through various eCommerce sites when I look forward to buy something, compare prices, add items to the cart and depending upon the urgency, proceed to check out which could be from a handheld device in case I did not complete the action on my desktop.
What would be the repercussions of app only platform for software developers. Well more work possibly; demand for flawless work undoubtedly, greater attention to incorporate better UI/UX into the app definitely and increasingly better career opportunities for mobile app developers. In fact if this step leads to success, Myntra will have a first mover advantage for sure but there will be many other eCommerce sites and boutique online shops that will follow suit with varying degrees of success.
I keep my fingers crossed. At this point of time I am left to wonder how relevant that small icon on my mobile phone would be in the times to come. Only time will tell…