Amazon’s Alexa assistant can do lots of things, like play your favorite song when you walk into a room and follow up on questions it can’t answer right away. Skills — third-party voice apps — extend its functionality, but they’re relatively siloed experiences; the Uber skill can’t talk to the Dominoes skill, for instance. That changes today.
Amazon this morning announced skill connections, a new tool in preview that enables developers to tap into features provided by other Alexa apps, services, and platforms. A gaming skill, for example, could offer to print the results of a leaderboard, and a trip itinerary planner skill could book a taxi or a restaurant.
Alexa users don’t have to invoke those other skills to take advantage of this function; they’re automatically routed to the right provider, and if the target skill is one they haven’t used before, Alexa will prompt them to enable it. On the developer end, implementing skill connections requires only “minimal code changes,” Amazon says.
“Skill connections use action-entity pairs to securely pass a customer request from one skill to another,” Amazon executive BJ Haberkorn explained in a blog post.
In the developer preview, there are five to choose from:
- Print <Image>
- Print <PDF>
- Print <WebPage>
- Schedule <FoodEstablishmentReservation>
- Schedule <TaxiReservation>
Those are in addition to Amazon Pay for Alexa Skills and in-skill purchasing, which were made generally available earlier this year.
Amazon teamed up with HP to provide printing (with Epson and Canon support on the way), OpenTable for food reservations, and Uber for ride-hailing. Allrecipes is the first skill to take advantage of this feature — by connecting to the HP skill to print recipes.
To sign up for early access to the HP, OpenTable, and Uber services or to apply to offer services from your skill to other developers, head over to this form. Amazon says it’ll select a “subset” of skills that apply.
Skill connections come hot on the heels of support for consumables, which let developers with Alexa skill games sell things like extra lives or hints in the middle of a trivia game. And it dovetails with a recently introduced feature that allows Alexa to suggest voice apps by goal or feature instead of name (e.g., “Alexa, I need a ride” or “Alexa, help me cook dinner”).
More improvements are on the way. At an event in Seattle last month, Amazon announced a host of upcoming Alexa features, including new music release notifications, routines for kids, and enhanced video controls for Alexa devices with screens (like the Echo Show).