Introducing our Alexa Development Services
We’re always looking for new ways to enable our clients at Storyware to share their content with users. Sometimes that means a new CMS, and sometimes that means an entirely new piece of technology. Today, we’re diving into Alexa Development and the voice design space.
What is Alexa?
Alexa is Amazon’s cloud-based voice service that allows users to retrieve information or accomplish tasks by using their voice. Users interact with Alexa via one of Amazon’s many Echo Devices or through the Alexa smart phone app.
Echo devices come in a variety of sizes at different price points. Many Alexa users start with the Echo “Dot”, which is available for $59 (That’s the third generation, the second generation is very similar and sells for $30). The Dot looks great and packs some decent audio abilities for its small size. The other Echos are a bit more expensive, but they have more capabilities; some have screens, and some are geared towards music.
Alexa offers a lot of information by default, but you can expand its capabilities by enabling new “skills.” Think of enabling a skill as installing an app.
For example, I enabled the Surfline Alexa Skill in my Alexa App to access the latest surf reports around the world. Now I can say to my Echo, “Alexa, ask surfline for the full surf report at 1st street Virginia Beach.” Depending on Alexa’s response, I might be making an impromptu trip to the coast.
What Can We Build for Alexa?
The sky is the limit. We started with Alexa development by building a skill for the Charlottesville Ale Trail that enables users to inquire about events happening at breweries along the trail. Once users enable and open the Charlottesville Ale Trail skill, they can say things like “Alexa, tell me what’s happening on the Charlottesville Ale Trail this weekend” or “Alexa are there events on the Ale Trail today?”
We built this skill by using Amazon’s DATE Slot Type to take a specific date or date range provided by the user to then make an API request to a REST API for events on https://charlottesvillealetrail.org. Once the API request returns a JSON payload of the events pertaining to the date(s) provided, we’re able to format the results into a speakable string of text that Alexa then shares with the user.
The great thing about the DATE Slot Type is that users don’t have to say specific dates such as “September 27th, 2019” and instead can use natural phrases such as tomorrow, today, this weekend, next Sunday, etc.. which Alexa can then parse into date-time stamps used in programming.
We can do all sorts of things with Alexa skills. The above concept could be tweaked to pull events from other data sources, and could be expanded to allow the user to supply additional parameters such as location or category.
Alexa also makes it possible to complete tasks. That means we could build a skill that allows users to make a purchase, book an event, or submit a form. If you think up a specific voice user experience, we can probably build it for Alexa.
Why is Voice Technology Important?
In a recent survey conducted by Adobe, 91% of the brands surveyed are investing in voice technology. Why? 36% of consumers in the US owned a smart speaker at the beginning of 2019, and that was a 14% jump from six months prior. The number of consumers who own a voice device has certainly jumped higher than 36% now that 2019 is approaching the 4th quarter.
Consumers gravitate to voice technology for a variety of reasons, many of which make perfect sense. Let’s face it – most of us have to be glued to screens for one reason or another these days. I always find myself dreaming of ways to get things done without looking at a screen, and definitely without typing. Alexa offers a refreshing break from screens and keyboards.
There are also many people out there who cannot look at a screen or use a standard computer, and Alexa can make information much more accessible.
Then of course there’s efficiency. While I’m cooking dinner, I can ask Alexa to set a timer, play music on Spotify, send a text, and so much more. I don’t entirely have to stop what I’m doing in order to get something else done thanks to technology like Alexa.
What’s next for Alexa Development by Storyware?
You tell us! We’d love to hear your unique ideas for new Alexa Skills. Drop us a line on our contact form if you’d like to chat about Alexa or see how we can bring voice to your business.
Page is a managing partner and Storyware’s CTO. He is keen on enabling others to make positive contributions to the world through technology. Page enjoys all things outdoors when he is away from the web: landscaping, surfing, skiing, paddling, snowboarding, rock climbing, and more.