AlexaDev Tuesday: Alexa Display Template Skill Deep Dive Wrap-Up

Time to wrap up the Alexa Display Template skill deep dive with some lessons learned and my conclusions about writing Display Template skills in general.

 

Dog Burrito

 

Note that the information provided here is accurate as of publication date, on 3/20/18, but is subject to change in the future if Amazon makes changes to its Alexa devices or the Alexa software.

Why No ‘Building Out AMAZON.Previous’ Post?

When I began planning this series of posts one topic I intended to cover was building out the AMAZON.Previous intent to manage screen navigation in a Display Template skill, because that one bit of functionality was by far the most difficult problem I had to solve in my Visual Tarot skill.

However, there’s no need to cover that topic anymore because after I started writing this series I discovered that a new “Action Link” element has been added to some Display Templates, and it does the same thing my lengthy code workaround was meant to accomplish: giving the user a means to go directly to a specific, different screen in the skill.

My only takeaway from this is that the tools Amazon provides to skill developers are subject to change at any time. If the Action Link element had been available when I started writing my skill, it would’ve saved me weeks of frustration. Such is the life of an Alexa skill developer. In hindsight, given that Display Template skills were only recently introduced when I started work on Visual Tarot, I should’ve anticipated that Display Template features and functionality were likely to change.

Going forward I will avoid building skills based on brand-new Alexa Skills Kit tools.

 

Test For Screen-Based Interaction Issues In Display Template Skills

Amazon has accumulated enough feedback from developers and customers to know there are some challenges when it comes to creating Display Template skills that present well on both Show and Spot.

While the Display Template reference provides specifications for working with text and images on Show vs. Spot, Amazon has taken the added precaution of publishing a Test for Screen-Based Interaction Issues article to offer guidance on the screen display issues most commonly seen. If you don’t have access to both a Show and a Spot for testing purposes, it’s a good idea to review that article.

 

Would I Do It Again? Probably Not.

I’m not sure I’ll be writing more Display Template skills anytime soon.

First, there’s the matter of kinks still being shaken out between Show and Spot developer tools and display functionality. Right now, anything I might write could end up being superseded or rendered incompatible by platform or device changes. I’ll hang back until I’m sure the available tools and devices have stabilized.

Second, while most people who have a Spot or Show absolutely love the device, these two Alexa devices still sell far fewer units than the more established Dot and Echo. If you’re hoping to get engagement numbers that can result in a skill rewards payout, it’s going to be a lot harder if your skill can only run on Show, Spot or both. The smarter move is to build skills that will run on any Alexa device, but perhaps offer an enhanced experience on Show or Spot.

Finally, while all of my Display Template skills run on both Show and Spot, some users who seem not to understand how the Spot’s on-screen navigation controls work have hit some of my Display Template skills with 1-star reviews that say the skill doesn’t run on Spot. To prevent future bad reviews based on this user error, I’ve changed the consumer-facing descriptions on most of my Display Template skills to say they’re designed for Show. Another reason for this decision is that, in my opinion, Display Template skills simply don’t present well, and aren’t easy for users to interact with, on the very small Spot screen.

 

I hope this series has supplied some useful tips and food for thought.

 

Other Posts In This Series

Introduction

Sourcing Alexa Skill Content

A Look At The Visual Tarot Alexa Skill Code

Things That Kill Alexa Skills
A checklist of reasons why you might want to rethink your skill, or its design, before you get too deep into the build.

Mapping Alexa Skill GUI Flow

Alexa Skill Image Cheatsheet

Alexa Platform Changes

Persisting Data With Session Attributes In Alexa Skills

Using Alexa Display Template Directives

Alexa Display Template Skill Test Gotchas