Alexa Live Recap

Voiced by Amazon Polly

On May 2, 2019, Amazon hosted their first Alexa Live 1/2 day virtual event for Alexa developers featuring 4 tracks and 4 hours of Alexa development content. I was thrilled that this was a free and virtual event, requiring no travel or conference fees. Amazon brought together a geographically diverse group of developers with and without budgets.

As an AWS Certified Alexa Skill Builder, I saw my favorite Alexa Evangelists present great content with their live coding sessions, and gained valuable insight into Food Network’s Alexa Skill.

The event kicked-off promptly at 12 Noon EST (9am Pacific) with a keynote from Dave Isbitski, Chief Evangelist, Amazon Alexa. Dave’s key theme was, “Meeting Customers in the Moment.” Dave boasted over 80,000 Alexa Skills and over 100,000,000 Alexa Enabled Devices. Now keep in mind that an “Alexa-enabled” device includes every Echo, Fire TV, and Kindle.

Four Alexa Learning Tracks

As I mentioned earlier, this 1/2 day virtual event featured 4 tracks: Design, Tools, Monetization, and Multimodal. I focused my attention on Multimodal.

Design Track

If you were non-technical, but wanted to get your feet wet, I would recommend that you start with Design and focus on the UI / VI (Voice Interface) track here.

Tools Track

If you have some coding knowledge, but haven’t created an Alexa Skill, I’d recommend the Tools track here and watch their session on “How to Build Your First Great Alexa Skill.”

Monetization Track

For more advanced developers, Amazon offered Monetization and Multimodal tracks. Monetization is for developers creating skills with premium content (either a monthly subscription fee, or one-time up front fee). I created Cork Ornaments as an example of a monetized skill, and it was featured on the front-page of the Amazon store just in time for the holiday season last year. You can watch the entire Monetization track here.

Multimodal Track

I followed the Multimodal track as I love the challenge and the utility of using the screen (of the Echo Show) to enhance the voice experience. Not to mention, I was a top 10 finalist in the recent Alexa Multimodal contest.

Tim McElreath, Director of Technology, Discovery, Inc. (better known as the mastermind behind the Food Network Alexa Skill), made a guest appearance during the “How We Design Multimodal Skills at Discovery” segment of the virtual event. This segment focused on how the Food Network designed their screens using Alexa Presentation Language (APL) to complement the voice experience. Careful thought was put into each screen and on each device. Tim even admitted that his team would “improv” Alexa interactions in their design process. Tim, along with Senior Evangelist Cami Williams and Akersh Srivastava, dissected various screens from the Food Network Alexa Skill.

Tim also joked that keeping up with the new Alexa features for developers was a part-time job. To illustrate, below is a list of recent enhancements for developers from Amazon. The blue enhancements were launched within the last 6 months. If the screenshot below is a bit of an eye-chart, here’s the link to the list of feature updates for Alexa Skills Kit.

Next, Rob McCauley, Senior Evangelist, Amazon Alexa, tied in monetization and gaming with his State Games live coding session. Source code from his session can be found here.

Continuing in the Multimodal track, Cami Williams, Senior Alexa Evangelist, performed a live coding session for her fantasy restaurant, Alexa Cafe. All of the code from her session can be found here.

Trends Shaping the Future of Voice

The 1/2 day Alexa Live broadcast wrapped up with a keynote from Paul Cutsinger, Head of Education, Amazon Alexa, and Bret Kinsella, Editor,

Bret quoted that there are now 66 million smart speakers in the US, and 25% adoption for a 40% rise in ownership last year. Households with smart speakers have an average of 2 devices per household. Households adopting smart speakers are buying more than one. That shows value in the devices.

Paul and Bret each selected their top 3 trends they see in voice market. See below for each of their picks.

Bret noted that the number one complaint he hears from developers is Discovery. How do developers get adoption of the skills that they create with over 80,000 skills now? Bret and Paul agreed that skill developers / brands will need to advertise their skills as they do with mobile apps today. Chick-fil-a spent millions on the launch of their CFA One mobile app.

My Take

My opinion on this 1/2 day virtual event was overall extremely positive. The event did not suffer the traditional technical difficulties, every segment started on-time and every video played with audio in sync. Amazon balanced the technical content with Alexa propaganda. There was even a side chat component to make the event more interactive. I saw developers shout out from Brazil to across the US. I appreciated that the evangelists gave out real-code that we can use. Speakers were honest and transparent about what it really takes to code, launch, and promote an Alexa skill today. If I have one point of criticism, I don’t believe that the Alexa Live was actually live. It was just a little too perfect for me. Either Amazon has every technical detail worked out, or each segment was filmed previously, and the “live” event was actually a compilation of recorded segments. Either way, the content was there and no time was wasted on technical difficulties. Thank you for joining me on this journey and if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me, or check out my website

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