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There is a growing (3.5+ year) gap between what a US dev can do and what a UK/DE dev cannot

I have given up keeping this thread updated as there are just too many differences now between the many countries where Alexa is supported.

It was started over THREE AND A HALF YEARS ago and not much has changed, the docs still focus on US developers only and the features they can use. The Built-in Intents that were launched two years ago still have not been released anywhere else (well, apart from a few small ones the past couple of months, but frankly I can set up "week days" myself thanks)


Well one thing has changed, my enthusiasm to work on the platform. I was very excited to start developing Skills, but more and more i would read about something and discover it was "US only", it felt then and still feels now that the rest of the world gets a lite version of the platform, that can't do things the US version can. So why bother.


Not to flog a dead horse, but given the recent two year anniversary of the Built-in Intents release, let's celebrate the two long years of silence from Amazon by asking a new question, What is the point of the built in library?

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This post was started in December 2016 originally about the new built-in library not being available to UK/DE.

One year later, and UK/DE (and all the other new countries Amazon are now launching the Echo in) still don't have access.

I update it when Amazon rollout another new developer feature available to the US only or when the UK/DE gets an update.

Though my interest in what Amazon is doing for Alexa has dwindled. I used to excitedly check the blog almost every day to see what new thing there was to play with. Now I grudgingly only have a look once or twice a month, there is little point reading about something that may never be made available to the UK/DE (which I think is what might happen with the built-in library)

Again, I know I sound like a stuck record, but it's been 11 months since the built-in library was made available to the US and the UK/DE are still unable to use it.

A list of "US only" features/changes made since December

  1. The built-in library (7th December 2016)
  2. Use of Literal slot types (Since original US launch?)
  3. Speechcons (10th February 2017)
  4. Thermostat queries (27th February 2017)
  5. Lock control and query (3rd March 2017)
  6. Colour control for smart home devices (7th April 2017)
  7. Video Skill API (8th June 2017)
  8. Entertainment Capabilities in Alexa Smart Home - New Device Controls for TVs, AV Receivers, and IR Hubs (14th July 2017)
  9. Kid Skills (31st August 2017)
  10. Logitech Harmony Skill using #8 (11th September 2017)
  11. Voice Profiles (whilst not available to devs yet)

A list of "UK/DE" features/changes made since the September launch

  1. Alexa Flash Briefing Skill API – Available in the UK and Germany (28th March 2017)
  2. Speechcons - Available in the UK and Germany (27th April 2017)
  3. Thermostat queries for UK (19th May 2017) (DE "coming soon")
  4. Colour control for smart home devices for UK (26th May 2017) DE (30th June 2017)
  5. Video Skill API (limited version, no Gracenote data) (8th June 2017)
  6. Lock control and query (20th July 2017 (four months after US))
  7. Entertainment Capabilities in Alexa Smart Home (Smart Home Skills for Entertainment Devices) inc Logitech Harmony "blue" Skill (9th November (118 days (I think) after US))

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Original post in December 2016

Introducing the ASK Built-in Library Developer Preview: Pre-Built Models for Hundreds of Slots and Intents

Really exciting news, then I read "US only" and it felt like a punch in the gut.

With the distinct lack of mentions in the docs of it being “US only” providing an additional slap in the face. The only mention of it being “US only” is in the blog article or if you dig deep into the categories.

I’m realistic and I do understand why we had to wait two years to get the hardware, it was a long wait but the UK developers finally have (legitimate) access to the Echo.

However I don't understand why software pushes applied to one region cannot be applied to all the supported regions. And it would genuinely really be appreciated if Amazon could provide an explanation as to why this is the case. Is it a technical limitation?

I can't help feel a little cheesed off and ignored as this is yet another difference that widens the gap between what a developer in the US can do and what a developer anywhere else can't.

The differences are starting to stack up.

UK/DE didn't have access to AMAZON.LITERAL slots from launch. This affected initial learning as they are still referenced heavily in tutorials. It has also caused problems with developers unable (or unwilling) to make their Skills available to the UK/DE.

But that’s technology for you, the Custom Slot was replacing AMAZON.LITERAL. Yay progress. So it made sense to get UK/DE using them from the start rather something that would be depreciated in a couple of months (September 28th to November 30th)

Then Amazon moved the depreciation date to February, meaning that US developers can continue to use AMAZON.LITERAL in new Skills that won’t be available to UK/DE.

Currently we have a situation where the UK/DE are busy building Skills with Custom Slots. Giving some US developers no reason to migrate to Custom Slots so will be sticking to AMAZON.LITERAL whilst they can.

Amazon have since announced (Feb 2017) that they WILL NOT be depreciating the AMAZON.LITERAL slot for US Skills. UK/DE can not use them and there is no information to even suggest that will change in the future.

The new Built-in Intent Library looks like it could make many of the reasons to use Custom Slots redundant. The speed things are progressing Amazon might (with good reason) be replacing Custom Slots with something new in three months. Probably “US only” again.

In the meantime the UK/DE is still waiting for someone at Amazon to look down upon the forgotten rest of the world and show us some mercy by granting access to the hand-me-down technology you don’t need anymore. Smiley face.

Update July 22nd 2017: This post was written Dec 21st 2016, two weeks after the Built-in Library was made available to the US. It has now over seven months since the US release and the situation has not changed.

It is frustrating as Amazon appear to be putting a great deal of effort and money into really pushing Echo forward. Yet it seems they forget one of (if not the biggest) benefits of the internet. Which is… it’s global.

Why bother

This issue is an important one, being kept behind really makes a UK/DE developer think “why bother”. Which doesn’t encourage new local Skills to be developed, giving local consumers less reasons to buy an Echo.

Amazon employ some very clever people and I expect have detailed roadmaps for where they want to be technology wise. Someone must have spotted this growing problem at Amazon HQ, and I hope there are plans level things out.

Incompatible Skills between US and UK/DE

September 2016 Amazon announced Alexa and Amazon Echo Now Available in the UK and Germany. In the announcement it says "Developers and hardware makers around the world can create Alexa skills for UK and German customers". and "There are over 3,000 skills for Alexa in the US, and now developers can extend their experiences to more customers in Europe."

This was not true at launch due to the lack of Literal slots and it is even less true now because we don't have access to the "hundreds of built-in slots and intents". Not forgetting the recent announcement about how US users can continue to use Literals, with no mention on how this will affect the UK/DE.

Any Skill developed in the US that uses a Literal slot or anything in the built-in library will not work in Europe.

Are the language differences to blame?

The blog post Announcing Thermostat Query for Smart Home Skills was a curious one. It is not really that surprising that this new feature is US only.

What is curious is that I always assumed it was to do with language and accent differences, and these differences required work to be done on the "core" voice recognition processing.

Currently the US, UK and DE can all use the Smart Home Skill Kit to set room/device temperatures directly and also increase/decrease room/device temperatures with the following two intents

SetTargetTemperatureRequest

Example Utterances:

  • “Alexa, set the room name to number degrees”
  • “Alexa, stelle Raumname auf Anzahl Grad”

DecrementTargetTemperatureRequest

Example Utterances:

  • “Alexa, decrease device name by number degrees”
  • “Alexa, reduziere Gerätename um Anzahl Grad”

Only US customers can query the current temperature and what it is currently set to:

GetTemperatureReadingRequest

Example Utterances:

  • “Alexa, what is the temperature of device name?”

GetTargetTemperatureRequest

Example Utterances:

  • “Alexa, what is the device name set to?

Given words like "temperature" and "degrees" are already recognised correctly to set the temperature, there shouldn't be any additional recognition/language work required for the same words to be used to get the temperature.

If this is true (remembering that I am only speculating) then there is really very little reason why Amazon could not have made the ability to query a temperature available to all supported countries at the same time.

Again it would be great if Amazon would give some explanation about why there is such a large difference in what each country can do.

Added Mar 4th 2017

Lock control and query for smart home skills has been released.

Announcing Lock Control and Query for Smart Home Skills

No surprise that it is US only, but at least they had the courtesy of saying "coming soon" to UK/DE

Added April 5th 2017

Hark!

Tis true that on the 28th day of the month that is March, there was an update for UK/DE. The long awaited Flash Briefing API access has been granted.

Read more in the blog post Alexa Flash Briefing Skill API – Now Available in the UK and Germany by @deanbryen

It is a small step, but it is a step. Let's hope there are more steps to come that will give all Alexa devs access to the same tools.

Still no built-in library for UK/DE, but hey it has only been four months!!!

:)

Added April 8th 2017

Well that didn't last long the long awaited colour controls for smart home devices has been released the ability to say "turn desk light to blue" has been a part of HomeKit for a while and was something that I missed with the echo I have even written a custom skill that allows me to do this

I was so excited when I read the announcement, but of course I am now so disappointed that it is again US only.

This really is getting beyond a joke, coming soon means nothing, it has been four months since the built-in intents and there is still nothing to say that we will ever get it in the UK/DE.

It has been "coming soon" for two months since the speech cons were announced. Still waiting (edit: no longer waiting as these were made available to UK/DE April 27th 2017)

Added April 28th 2017

Speechcons are now available in the UK/DE, woohoo.

77 days after they were made available to the US.

Added May 29th 2017

Tunable Lighting Control for Smart Home Skills added for UK, though no support for DE yet.

I think this is a first, usually UK and Germany are treated as one. For colour control of smart devices the UK have access whilst DE is "coming soon".

I have always been well aware that the differences between languages for UK and US english are few, english and german are completely different languages. Yet having UK/DE treated as one has never been a problem, features should be released to all regions together. I hope we will not see this become a trend, with features released to US first, then UK and finally DE. That would be a step backwards.

Added July 22nd 2017

It has now been SEVEN MONTHS since the built-in library was released to the US. I really wasn't expecting to still be waiting over half a year later. I also am not aware of any changes made to the "developer preview" in those six months.

No news on what is happening with the Literal Slot either. In the meantime US devs are continuing to make Skill that use it, and those Skills will not be compatible with UK/DE Echos. It is not the developers fault at all, I am sure I would be using it if I had access to it.

Added September 13th 2017

NINE MONTHS and still no built-in library.

I added the Kid Skill support to the list of things only available in the US. Took a while as don't read the blogs as much, it is clear Amazon have given up on UK/DE. Yet they still seem to be happy to sell them to unsuspecting customers. Appalling.

Logitech Harmony Enables Voice Control of Entertainment Devices with Alexa

I know this is not officially an Amazon thing, it is Logitech using the new device controls for Smart Home. It is annoying and a little offensive that the article doesn't mention that it is US only.

I know you think we all live like the cast of Downton Abby, but we do have the internet, you are publishing to the world, not just the US.

Added November 8th 2017

ELEVEN MONTHS and still no built-in library.

At this stage if they are ever gonna launch it in the UK/DE then I kinda hope they wait until a whole year has passed.

Added November 13th 2017

We (UK users) can now use the Logitech Harmony "blue" Skill in the UK (though not DE). Which I assume means UK can also create "Smart Home Skills for Entertainment Devices" which according to the docs is true. However DE users can not create "Smart Home Skills for Entertainment Devices" which means no Harmony Skill either :(

alexa skills kithelpbuilt-in librarycommunity feedback
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Agreed and thanks for posting this.

Amazon should really be considering the fact that the development of UK/DE skills is going to directly contribute to the take up and success of Amazon Echo in these regions. Clearly there are companies here willing to invest time to develop on this platform, but if we are to deliver high quality content we require the appropriate level of support. The built-in update is such a major change it is currently not worth development effort integrating with the Echo until this is made available.

Yes, it's a developer preview and not an actual release, but surely you should be involving all your customers at the forefront of the process?

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This announcement suggests Literals are staying and not being depreciated.

It is not clear as the update in bold says one thing, but the article still talks about deprecation in February.

https://developer.amazon.com/blogs/post/Tx3IHSFQSUF3RQP/why-a-custom-slot-is-the-literal-solution

It is even less clear what this means to the UK and DE, will they be turned on for us? or will we continue to be treated as an afterthought.

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The article is kept in full for historial purposes, but the more recent update, in terms of it not being deprecated is true.

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digisam avatar image digisam Jamie Grossman ♦♦ ·

Thanks for the confirmation. It would be good to know if the UK/DE are going to be able to use Literal slots as a result of this reversal.

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I'm building a skill to allow control of music playback devices (squeezeboxes). A significant proportion of my test population (and end users) are UK and DE based.

It's likely an insurmountable;le challenge to provide full search and management of artists, albums, genres, playlists etc. WITHOUT the built-ins but they are tantalising only available in US skills.

What do I tell my users? Come on Amazon, 6 months!!

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The recently announced kid skills are yet another thing which are only available in the US - the FAQs just say "We will only publish kid skills in the United States at this time" and don't give any indication of if or when these will be available in the UK and Germany.

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Jamie Grossman answered ·

Hey there,

Thanks for posting. I passed this on to the team and they are well aware of the issue. Rest assured, they have heard your feedback and are working as hard as they can to address it. Unfortunately, Amazon doesn't comment on future plans or releases, but we will update the community as soon as we have more on the matter.

Thanks,

Jamie

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And now, as I posted here yet another feature has been added (Speechcons) which is US only (although nothing in the documentation mentions the limitation). I can understand why it may not have been possible to implement this in Germany but it should surely be possible to have this available for UK English.

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Thank you for pointing out the opportunity for us to update our blog post. We've edited the post to reflect that support for English (UK) and German skills is coming soon.

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Thanks for posting this and adding to the conversation. I just had a play with the Speechcons and you are right, they don't work on UK Skills. The failure to mention this on the docs and blog announcement just reinforces the idea that Amazon are ignoring the other countries where they have released the Echo.

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"Rest assured, they have heard your feedback and are working as hard as they can to address it."

So how's all that hard work going?

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Thanks for the reply. It would be appreciated if Amazon included something about UK/DE when they make announcements. At the moment the complete lack of information only makes us feel more ignored and excluded.

It has been 62 days since the built-in library was opened up to US developers, with nothing to say the UK/DE will get it at all.

Compared to other SDKs like Xcode and Android Studio, it does seem unusual how Alexa tools are not rolled out to everyone at the same time. If the built-in library does eventually get released to UK/DE, it would be great if it was accompanied with a blog post explaining the reasons why and what is being done to prevent the UK/DE from being left behind. Because a delay of 62 days (and counting) is not really acceptable.

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I have been building a skill for Alexa UK for some time, I was using LITERAL slots until they were suddenly removed from the UK/DE locale. So frustrating given AMAZON.LITERAL is staying for US.

I agree with the comments above, UK/DE seems left behind and I am now not even sure if I'll be able to publish my skill to the store - which is annoying after spending so much time developing it :-(

Custom slots just don't work as a CatchAll, in my experience no matter what the user says, it is heavily weighted towards the list and it just picks a value in the slot regardless.

My skill was working great until LITERAL was removed. I too would like to know if LITERAL or an equivalent is coming back the UK/DE.

Custom slots are not a direct equivalent for LITERAL and unless you can define a list of what exactly the user can say - they are no good :-(

I've tried random words and this works ok but it's nowhere near as accurate as LITERAL.

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Mike MaccyD avatar image
Mike MaccyD answered ·

As a UK dev, if you try to use a custom slot to catch an unknown word, as well as the heavy weighting you mention above there's another problem... If you use a custom slot to catch any word, and include that in your sample phrases then it fails UK certification because the example words aren't in the custom slot. As a result it's effectively impossible to write a simple skill like an Anagram Solver that can use any word, or a list of letters (I know, I've built it). Allowing us to use literal would solve this problem.

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Can't you add the examples words you're using in your skill description to the custom slot type you've created to take all words? Wouldn't that solve that issue?

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Mike MaccyD avatar image Mike MaccyD Jamie Grossman ♦♦ ·

That would possibly help the skill pass certification but not be actually useful. Users need to be able to ask for anagrams of any word, not just the ones I've listed. If I add a small number of words, or even 1000s then non-listed words are completely missed out. This requirement is exactly what the LITERAL type does, and so without being able to use that in the UK these kind of skills are crippled.

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In that case any user input remotely similar to the example word would resolve to it, wouldn't it?

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Jamie Grossman avatar image Jamie Grossman ♦♦ newuser-1074ba0f-86ec-4fe7-aaa1-f6290de23cf4 ·

Not always:

Note that a custom slot type is not the equivalent of an enumeration. Values outside the list are still returned if recognized by the spoken language understanding system. Although input to a custom slot type is weighted towards the values in the list, it is not constrained to just the items on the list. Your code still needs to include validation and error checking when using slot values.

See here.

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clel answered ·

Nice overview, thanks for keeping it up-to-date!

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The new Kids skills are only available in US. Should be added.

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andig answered ·

Great this has been passed on to the team. Unfortunately, resting is all the European developers can do now as we're waiting....

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Sounds great I agree, but that response from Amazon was back in February. Apparently the team are were "working as hard as they can", though I am not sure what on. Certainly not the UK/DE development :(

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LiamDeLee answered ·

at least be happy you people can use the Amazon echo and stuff in Germany and the UK in Belgiüm we are still waiting for it :p

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BladeRunner68 answered ·

Logitech Harmony Blue skill now available in the UK. FireTV stick support also enabled (bit limited though)

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LiamDeLee answered ·
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Andy Whitworth answered ·

No custom list support in the Alexa App/Web in UK either.

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newuser-ec61c559-a3d3-408b-94d5-1dc5bfb72be9 avatar image
newuser-ec61c559-a3d3-408b-94d5-1dc5bfb72be9 answered ·

I think it's working! Amazon's strategy of ignoring other countries I mean. Eventually we're going to get bored, exasperated, frustrated and stop wasting our time. Do Google have a Skills equivalent yet?

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