Voice assistants are usually found in sci-fi and are often complicated pieces of tech. In the real world, they can provide automation and entertainment. For Amazon’s own line of voice assistants, you’re able to create an “Alexa Skill” – a fundamental building block of how the device interacts with users.
In this post we discuss what an Alexa Skill is, then run through how to create one without coding knowledge!
An Introduction to Alexa Skills
For the uninitiated, an Alexa Skill is how a user interacts with Amazon’s Echo line of voice assistants. It’s a cloud-based service that takes input from the user – in this case their speech – runs it through code, and returns a result.
To offer a real-world example, take the NASA Mars Alexa Skill.
You start the Skill by using a unique “invocation name” – there are usually a few ways to do it. In this example, you could simply state, “Alexa, open NASA Mars.” Alternatively, you could ask a question “Alexa, ask NASA Mars how big Mars is.” You’ll then get a spoken response.
Much like the Web itself, there are Alexa Skills running a gamut of applications, including games, educational content, and much more.
Why You’d Want to Create an Alexa Skill
Voice assistants are widely used. The Amazon Echo is a market leader on a quarter-by-quarter basis, and part of this is down to the number and variety of Alexa Skills available.
On a basic level, creating something dynamic (i.e. that responds to user input) is a driving factor for many hobbyist programmers. However, plenty of other developers and companies have also looked to monetize their Alexa Skills.
For others, simply offering entertainment or educational value is a driving factor. In short, there are plenty of valid reasons to want to create an Alexa Skill.
What’s more, developing for the platform is straightforward, regardless of your experience. In fact, you could even create an Alexa Skill without coding knowledge, as you’ll discover in the next section.
How to Create an Alexa Skill without Coding Experience
There’s very little you need to create an Alexa Skill. The main requirement is an Amazon Developer account. There’s no charge for this, but you’ll need one to access the Alexa Software Development Kit (SDK) and essential tools and interfaces.
When you’re ready to create an Alexa Skill, the basic steps are as follows:
1. Choose a name for your Skill.
2. Decide on an interaction model, such as “Flash Briefing,” “Smart Home,” or “Music.”
3. Choose a hosting method for your Alexa Skill. Amazon’s free hosting is often adequate.
4. Create your Alexa Skill’s fundamental functionality (more on this shortly).
5. Test and deploy your Alexa Skill.
Of course, developing the Skill itself could take up most of your effort and time. Under normal circumstances, you’d need considerable coding skills to create this sort of application.
However, you can create an Alexa Skill using “Blueprints” – pre-built blocks that help you piece together your Skill without opening a code editor:
However, once you’ve developed one Alexa Skill, you may get the itch to create another. Fortunately, there are a number of resources for helping you along the way.
Your Next Steps for Creating an Alexa Skill
We mentioned monetization, and if this interests you, you’ll want to first check out Amazon’s guide on In-Skill purchases. From there, researching real-world examples of developers who have earned income from Alexa Skills is a good idea.
If you’d like to explore the world beyond using Alexa Blueprints, check out Amazon’s specific tutorials. However, you’ll notice that coding will become a requirement sooner rather than later.
In short, Python is a top-notch language for both beginners and experienced coders, and it’s fully supported for Alexa. We’d suggest diving in and learning the basics before attempting to create an Alexa Skill again.
Amazon’s Echo devices can provide plenty of helpful and fun ways to enrich your life. However, if you wish to create an Alexa Skill, you’ll be providing plenty of value to other users and may even be able to monetize your efforts. Alternatively, if you are just getting started with Amazon Echo, you may want to check out some of the must-have skills before you create your own.