For experienced developers, though, the biggest change is likely going to be their new Dialog Model and Dialogue directives, which provide a way to essentially let Alexa auto-pilot the gathering of bits of information, moving the simple back-and-forth of multi-turn dialogues out of your own server side code. This is a neat idea, and we have a ton of questions about how it will play out in practice. (What happens if a user purposely breaks out of the Dialog Model mid-conversation? Can we piggy-back other concepts onto this feature? etc).
For those who liked the old interface, it's still around. The Skill Builder UI is entirely optional at this point. It's worth noting, however, that using the old interface does not provide you with a way to describe a dialog model, so you're handicapped in that way. There are also a couple caveats that come with the dialog model - you may not use the Yes/No built-in intents, and the Literal is strictly verboten - which may slow its adoption a bit.
(For an even deeper dive, check out Paul Cutsinger's 3-part series on the Alexa Developers Youtube channel, or expand below)
This one is almost strictly a positive. The feature does pretty much exactly what we need. We can provide a list of users to test our skill, which lets them try it out before publishing. We can also provide a deep-link for users to self-register. It also gives us some simple tester management options.
If we had to be super critical of the feature, it's worth noting that there's a immutable 90 day expiration on the beta. We're not quite sure what that accomplishes, and it unfortunately closes down some interesting avenues for private skill development. But all things considered, this is a huge move in the right direction.
For a lot of us, the even bigger side-effect of this change was that we finally have a deviceId, allowing us to disambiguate different Alexa-enabled devices on a given account. The great hope here was that this deviceId would be both globally unique and static across skills, but alas that was too much to ask for and it's variable from skill-to-skill. That said, it still opens up a path (albeit a winding, roundabout path) for implementing some of the more immersive concepts developers have been sitting on. We're super excited to see what people come up with.
While the doors are now open for location information, our hope is that Amazon will actually abstract things out a bit further and give us the option to know just a user's timezone. We can obviously discern that most of the time from postal code, but that's a fair bit of work and also a privacy burden that isn't necessary in a lot of cases.
New Metrics Dashboard
The biggest addition, in our opinion, is the ability to see which intents are getting triggered at a given frequency. We've admittedly been a bit sloppy with paying attention to our intent ratios, and so some of the data that came out of our initial look at the new dashboard was a big wakeup call.
Now that Amazon has come closer to built-in parity with some of the third-party analytics tools, it'll hopefully nudge those groups to step up their game and take the reporting to the next level.
AWS Promo Credits
Change to advertising rules
Most developers aren't using in-skill advertising anyway, because it's super jarring (although, quick aside: we'd be super pumped if you clicked on our display ads on this blog...), but it's still frustrating to know that the option isn't even there anymore.