Amazon has launched a new contest, with over $40,000 in prizes, asking developers to create new skills for Alexa that makes life more enjoyable, organized, and/or convenient. Can this work?
As we reported recently, see The State Of Voice As UI, Amazon's Alexa is currently the most talked up technology currently available.
The Voice Lab reports charts an explosion in the availability of Alexa skills since last June, due presumably to the previous series of bi-monthly Alexa Skills contests run on Hackster.io.
Now that those contests are over Amazon is looking to another developer community, DevPost, formerly ChallengePost which is well for running contests and hackathons, both online and in person.
Announcing the contest Amaxon states:
We are challenging developers and designers to create unique new skills that make Alexa smarter. To compete for over $40,000 in prizes, you will need to create an original Alexa skill. This is our most open-ended challenge yet. Will you turn Alexa into a concierge, sous chef, fitness coach, personal shopper, or DJ? You decide.
The details point out that you don't need an Amazon Echo to participate. You can test your skill using EchoSim: the Alexa Skill Testing Tool by iQuarius Media, a browser-based interface to Alexa, the cloud-based voice service that powers the Echo. EchoSim responds visually, aurally, and programmatically like a real Echo.
To take part in the contest you need first to join Devpost and sign up for Amazon Developer Account. You also need to use the Amazon Skills Kit (ASK). Once you've built your skill you are recommended to host it on AWS Lambda and you need to take a demo video and screenshots. The deadline for submitting your skill for Alexa Skill Store certification is 5:00pm ET on May 9, 2017 and to be eligible for prizes, skills must have passed and be available in the Alexa Skills Store by June 13, 2017.
With regard to prizes, they are itemized on the Devpost site:
In addition 50 finalists will receive a $500 Gift card and an Amazon Echo and there's a there's a Popular Choice Award of an Echo Dot and a a Tap
Prizes of a $100 Gift card for the first 200 successful submissions published in the Alexa Skill Store via this contest make it an attractive route to follow if you've been working on an Alexa skill.
Entries will be judged on three criteria:
Quality of Idea – The more creative, refreshing, and innovative, the better! All ideas must be original.
Potential Value – How useful and/or valuable is the skill to Alexa users?
One of the problems with existing Alexa skills is they tend to be of limited scope. Smart home skills such as switching on a household appliance are restricted to specific products. The explanation for the contest offering Large Organization awards is presumably to persuade more manufacturers to work with Alexa.
In its recent report Voice Labs speculated that, given that only 31% have more than one customer review, many Alexa skills available in the App Store are:
‘Zombie Skills’: they are accessible but are not heavily used or appreciated.
It is also difficult to be original given the number of Alexa skills already available. Again Voice Labs has some useful data about the type of voice app already available in the Amazon App Store:
The Voice Labs report states:
Missing platform capabilities like social awareness and direct communication are must-haves in 2017.
but also notes:
A big reason for the quantity vs. quality discrepancy lies in the capabilities that platforms currently offer to third-party developers.
This suggests that limitations in the Alexa Skills Kit may in turn limit what third party developers can achieve, however imaginative they may be.
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