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Amazon's latest Alexa upgrade improves responses for food, sports and more

Tim Maytom

Amazon Skills designed to help users find recipes, information on sports teams or even video games are getting a boost, thanks to a new upgrade to the voice assistant's Custom Skill API that should provide a more consistent experience, as well as saving both developers and users time.

When third-party Skills designed for the AI assistant request more information from users, those requests fall into 'slot types' - different categories that Alexa uses to define how data is recognised and handled. For example, a travel Skill might use the 'airline' slot type to refine a search for flights. As of today, Amazon is upgrading Alexa's public beta with four new slot types - food, sports, video games and creative work types.

The update will eliminate work that developers would otherwise have to do each time a new Skill is made, and will work in all Alexa locales, with any Skill available through the platform's Skills Store. The update also includes a representative list of values (like 'chicken', 'grapefruit' or 'chocolate mousse' for food, or 'book', 'soundtrack' or 'short story' for creative work) which continuously updates.

This isn't the first time Amazon has updated Alexa's slot types for third-party developers; categories including country, colour, genre and language were added to the beta recently. The upgrade also comes just after Alexa's new Reminders API, which enables skills developers to alert users of upcoming events and check calendar availability. Alexa Smart Scheduling Assistant, another recently added feature, enables third-party skills to schedule one-on-one meetings based on when both participants are free.

The rate at which new capabilities are added to Alexa has been accelerating since September, when Amazon unveiled 11 new and updated devices including the Echo Sub and Amazon Smart Plug. Building a robust ecosystem for apps, or rather Skills, is essential if Amazon wants to turn its large userbase of Alexa-powered device owners into a regular, engaged audience.

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