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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. That changes today.
Amazon announced that skill connections, a tool that enables developers to tap into features provided by other Alexa apps and services, is now generally available in the Alexa Skills Kit in all regions where Alexa is available. (Skills connections launched in preview in October.) Supported use cases at launch include printing, booking a restaurant table, and arranging transportation.
Allrecipes was one of the first to take advantage of skill connections by connecting to the HP skill to print recipes. “Adding printing capability enhances our skill’s overall experience for customers,” said Meredith Digital VP of innovation Corbin de Rubertis in a statement. “Now home cooks can easily print the recipes they want using the Allrecipes skill on Alexa, all within the same conversation.”
Here’s the full list of tasks available through skill connections:
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As Alexa product manager Leo Ohannesian explains in a blog post, Alexa skills that offload tasks through skill connections are called Requesters. Skill connections automatically route context along with requests — for example, an address and time for an appointment — to the right skill without prompting or explicit direction. And if the target skill is one a customer hasn’t used before, Alexa will ask them to enable it.
Alexa skills that perform tasks for other skills, on the other hand, are called Providers. Currently, the Provider catalog includes HP, Epson, and Canon for printing; Uber for transportation reservations; and OpenTable for restaurant reservations.
Developers can make a skill a Requester by implementing the required handlers and republishing it in the Alexa Skill Store, or make it a Provider by updating the skill’s manifest and implementing the handler before resubmitting the skill for approval through the skill certification process.
Amazon says that Alexa surfaces Provider skills to requester skills based on “multiple signals,” including the Provider skill’s popularity and regional availability, and the customer’s most recent use.
The launch of skill connections comes after the Alexa Mobile Accessory (AMA) Kit — the software stack that enables devices to tap Alexa for music playback, smart home device control, calendar management, and tens of thousands of third-party skills — gained features in the form of location-aware responses and access to more music services. In other Alexa news, Amazon last month debuted Alexa Conversations in developer preview, a deep learning-based way to make Alexa skills with multi-turn dialogue that can interconnect with other Alexa skills.
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