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Frank Giuffrida avatar image
Frank Giuffrida asked

Skills Kit Next Release

I have been looking for information about future releases of the toolkit. As developers, would be helpful to know how long we will need to wait for card output formatting or nested Intents, for example. I'm not looking to press people on dates, just trying to get some idea where the features I am waiting for are in the priority list and when you think the next upgrade to the toolkit might be. Thanks.
alexa skills kit
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jjaquinta avatar image
jjaquinta answered
Having worked for a while in a Busines Partner technical enablement group, providing this sort of information is critical to making your business partners engage your product and succeed at providing services. I find it incredible that Amazon, in this day and age, is adopting the mushroom approach to the people working to add value to their property (keep them in the dark and shovel manure on them occasionally). Perhaps there is a "hidden" business partner program for "serious" developers that we don't rate. In some ways I'd be happier if there was; knowing they are actually making a commitment to creating a 3rd party support structure for their platform. But the complete lack of information and boiler-plate responses in the forum give me cause for concern that they are really taking 3rd party development of this platform seriously.
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Troy Newton avatar image
Troy Newton answered
I requested the same type of thing a little while back with no response from Amazon. It is very frustrating. If you look back at the message boards recently, interest seems to be dying down. All of the recent comments are repeats of previous posts like wanting push notifications, a different port for SSL, etc. There seems to be very little in the way of new ideas and skills. Third party skills aren't even available yet. At least if we had a time frame and upcoming features we could think about what we could do with them. I got mine working with turning things off and on with my Insteon stuff and can have it send me a text message to find my phone in the house. After that, I haven't touched it in a while. I am beginning to wonder if the echo will go the way of the Google TV.
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Matt Kruse avatar image
Matt Kruse answered
Now that I have all the logistics figured out and I am building real apps hosted on google cloud I'm finding that the possibilities really are limited by the current implementation. I have lots of ideas, but many of them are not possible now, or the phrasing required becomes so cumbersome that it doesn't feel natural. My feeling is that Amazon is most interested in the hardware business. Meaning, they want hardware vendors to hook up their devices to the echo. This seems to be the focus of the Alexa Fund, too. Support for the developer community seems to be there, but I don't feel like it's as important. Many projects publish a roadmap of plans, so developers get an idea of what is coming. I hope that Amazon does this also. Since this is still a pretty new product, I bet they are scrambling internally to get the right resources, focus, process, etc to make all this come together. They've done a lot of work so far, I'm just hoping they keep it up and keep us curious developers in the loop. And I wish that some of us tinkerers who are exploring the space and testing their framework could get a chunk of that Alexa Fund! Or at least an Amazon sweatshirt. ;)
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April L. Hamilton avatar image
April L. Hamilton answered
@Troy - [b]"If you look back at the message boards recently, interest seems to be dying down."[/b] I think lots of us just aren't talking about our skills, either because we don't want to count chickens before they hatch or don't want to let the cat out of the bag (inspire other devs to copy our concepts) on skills that we're still developing. That was certainly the case for me on any skills I had in development prior to certification. [b]"All of the recent comments are repeats of previous posts like wanting push notifications, a different port for SSL, etc. There seems to be very little in the way of new ideas and skills."[/b] I think this is because the skills kit was only recently opened up to the general public. Lots of new devs have just arrived in the past couple weeks, and weren't here when the same topics were being hashed out back in April and May. [b]"I am beginning to wonder if the echo will go the way of the Google TV."[/b] With both the skills and voice kits now open to outside developers, I don't think this is likely to happen. There are simply too many outside vendors, service providers and devs who are heavily invested in making the IoT happen, and Alexa is the first smart home device to date with both intuitive ease of use for the consumer and versatility for the developer. It's both true and frustrating that there are developmental limitations, and I'd certainly like to see many of the enhancements other devs are asking for. However, I think many devs are overlooking the tremendous opportunity being offered to those among the inaugural class of Echo skill devs: [b]1. Opportunity to establish brand recognition and credibility among consumers.[/b] When the skills store finally launches, initially there aren't going to be thousands of listings, like in the app store. There may not even be hundreds. It's a rare shot at high visibility in a context where consumers are champing at the bit to get access to [i]anything[/i] on offer. If they like one of your skills, it's very likely they'll check out the others. And if they like those, many will remember your brand and look forward to new releases from it. [b]2. Opportunity to work directly with Amazon's own Echo engineers and developers.[/b] IMO, this one is priceless. In months to come, as the skills store starts to look and run more like the app store, the kind of one-on-one communication, in-depth testing and feedback we're able to get from Amazon's experts right now will surely evaporate. Amazon is doing all in its power to ensure the first-round skills released to consumers are the best they can possibly be in terms of the user experience Amazon's going for. Amazon's level of perfectionism for these early skills can certainly be frustrating from the dev point of view (I've complained about it in the past, too), especially since we're not getting paid to work on them, but on the upside it ensures your skills will be as good as they can possibly be when they're finally released. [b]3. Opportunity to get free advertising from Amazon and word of mouth from consumers.[/b] When the skills store launches Amazon will have to choose at least a few skills to feature on the site, in their email alerts and ads, and it won't be so hard to chart on those early 'bestseller' lists. Again, with a target demo that is going to be open to trying virtually any skill they can get their hands on when skills finally launch, it's a safe bet the online discussion boards and social media will be abuzz with chatter about early skills. It puzzles me that so many devs are holding back on submitting skills at all, either because they can't charge for them or because they only want to submit "serious" skills with IoT functionality. Every one of the skills I've submitted so far has been a 'just for fun' kind of skill---I call them Echo toys. They're easy to write, will be fun for the user, target the widest possible user demo since they don't require ownership of any other smart devices, and they get me all those benefits I named above. My Bingo skill will even drive traffic to my website, since the skill tells the user he can download a free set of Bingo cards there and provides the URL. IMO, dilettante devs are closing a very rare window of opportunity.
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jjaquinta avatar image
jjaquinta answered
There's a lot to be said for the founder's advantage. (It's why my book is a "#1 best seller" -- in it's category.) However, unless Amazon come through and actually talk to us, points 2 & 3 aren't going to happen. I've toyed with the idea of getting some of us together to found some sort of user's group (or developer's group). But without even seeing a road map from Amazon, I'm not sure it is worth the effort.
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April L. Hamilton avatar image
April L. Hamilton answered
@jjaquinta - Point #2, working with Amazon's engineers and developers, already [i]has[/i] happened / [i]is[/i] happening for anyone who's entered the certification process with a skill. There are even conference calls, sometimes. Point #3, free exposure/advertising, will happen the day the skill store opens. [i]Some[/i] devs' skills are going to be featured, and [i]some[/i] devs skills are going to hit the 'bestseller' lists, that's inevitable. It may not be any of mine, but my odds are much better with such a small pool of competition. Message was edited by: April L. Hamilton
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Matt Kruse avatar image
Matt Kruse answered
I'm almost ready to submit one of my "bigger" skills for certification, but I'm still working on the web integration. I'm really curious to see how it will go, because if for some reason they decline it or force changes, that will be really disappointing. I've put a lot of work into it - particularly the integration with my custom web site and cloud hosting on google. I've built several small "cute/fun" apps, but I decided not to submit them because I didn't want to get weighed down in the approval process or support for apps that weren't really significant to me. I'm not sure if that's a good approach or if it's better to throw out multiple small apps to gain traction. We'll see. :)
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April L. Hamilton avatar image
April L. Hamilton answered
@Matt Indeed, we shall. :) I've decided to concentrate on multiple small skills rather than a single, much more complex one, to ensure I'll have a pretty strong presence when the skills store finally launches. I've got four "live" skills so far, and I'm debating whether or not to try and get another in over the weekend. As you hint, the certification process can be unpredictable and I'd guess a more complex skill will demand extremely thorough testing on Amazon's end. I hope it goes well for you.
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jjaquinta avatar image
jjaquinta answered
I've done it both ways. I put in a small one for starters (Knock Knock) and just submitted a serious one (Starlanes). Since they still haven't implemented something where you can send notes in with your skill, I just sent an e-mail to the person who dealt with some of the fallout for the first skill (Memo) and asked him to pass it on to whoever gets my skill. It's complicated, and uses adaptive behavior, so I wanted to highlight some things they need to know for testing. I got zero reply, so who knows if that worked. Interestingly, one of the aspects of doing a more complicated skill is that I need external report generators. So I can track how the gameplay goes, intervene if necessary, identify problem users, and report ad impressions. It's also been giving me a good insight into how Amazon test these things. Since it was submitted, about one to two new people try it out every day. Most of them don't do more than invoke it. Two users have engaged more deeply, but not persistently or consistently. I'm not sure if these trials are scoping the work required. Or if they just put it out for people to try, and see who volunteers to test it. But it's nice to get *SOME* feedback, even if I had to do all the work myself.
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R. Labanca avatar image
R. Labanca answered
I lost interest because it is too limiting for my needs. It's easy to hit the wall. Maybe Amazon doesn't want it to get more advanced than questions and answers. My skill would need push or long running sessions, deep linking via page jumps or cards, etc. without those it's not good. And all we will get are magic eight ball and math games.
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