AlexaDev Tuesday: Coding Alexa Skills for Echo Show

When Echo Show was first announced many Alexa skill devs wanted to know if we’d be given access to an expanded tool set for creating Alexa skills specifically made to take advantage of this device’s hardware. The answer is yes, and with Amazon’s documentation, templates and sample code, coding Alexa skills for Echo Show is well within reach of skill devs.

 

Not Tired Programmer

 

Echo Show is already the #1 new release in Electronics sales on Amazon so you know those things are flying off the shelves, and Echo Show owners are champing at the bit for new Alexa skills built especially for the new device. This gives developers a rare opportunity to surface one or more Alexa skills in an uncrowded playing field. Of course you’ll need to buy a Show to test, but Amazon’s made interest-free payments available for Amazon customers in good standing (5 x $46, see the buy box on the Echo Show’s product page), so that makes it a little easier. Also, devs who get any Alexa skill certified in the month of July can get a free Echo Dot and Alexa dev swag.

 

What You Can Build
The Echo Show touchscreen’s functionality is limited, compared to that on a tablet or smart phone. As of this writing the touch function is there primarily to facilitate menu navigation. This places certain limits on Alexa skills built for the Show, and means that skills based on a menu navigation paradigm will work best (e.g., user is shown a number of options and touches to select one, drilling down to a new screen with text, streaming video, streaming audio or a sub-menu, together with one or more standard navigation buttons like Back, Forward and Stop).

There’s support for custom background and foreground images, custom text display, streaming audio and video, and the same types of non-video functionality previously available in the Alexa Skills Kit. From Amazon’s David Isbitski:


The custom skills you have designed for Echo Show must take the following interactions into account:

Voice: Voice remains the primary means of interacting with Alexa, even on the Echo Show device. If your skill requires a screen to be used effectively, you should create a voice interaction that tells customers on non-screen devices how to interact.

Alexa app: Your custom skill may display a card with more information in the Alexa app. If the custom skill is used with an Echo Show device, the card automatically appears on the screen. However, if you update your skill with templates for the Display Interface, templates will take precedence and cards will not be displayed.

Screen display: If your custom skill uses the new display templates, you will need to pair the correct interaction with the correct display template based on the type of items you want to show.

Screen touch: You may also enable your skill to respond when a customer touches an item on screen. You can use a custom select intent and use action links to create a voice- and touch-interaction experience on body templates (for example, displaying a recipe that corresponds to the selected item on a list of recipes). Also, the list templates are inherently selectable via touch (no action links required).


 

The Links
There’s a lot of reading to do in getting up to speed, but Amazon has added new training videos, sample code, technical documentation and special Echo Show templates in their Amazon Alexa Voice Guide tool to facilitate quick prototyping.

Here are the relevant links from Amazon’s developer blog and portal:

How to Build Alexa Skills for Echo Show
Start here for the best overview, with examples.

Build Skills For Echo Show developer reference

Display Interface Reference

VideoApp Interface Reference

Echo Show dev videos in the Alexa Voice Design Guide

Alexa Voice Design Guide Main Portal

 

Thanks to all of Amazon’s supplied tools and documentation, the learning curve isn’t very steep. Dive in, and give Alexa skill dev for Echo Show a try.

 

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If you want to write skills for the Show, there’s no way around it: you’ll have to buy an Echo Show. Amazon’s just made interest-free installments available though (5 x $46, see the buy box on linked page) so it’s more manageable. Remember the visibility factor: Echo Show owners are very interested in seeing new skills built especially for the device, and there’s not much competition out there. And don’t forget the Echo Dot and Alexa dev swag Amazon’s giving to everyone who gets a new skill certified in the month of July. Get cracking!

 

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