If you haven’t noticed, the basis of my Alexa Skills tend to slant in the direction of pop culture. For a while I considered trying to tap into the television phenomenon 90 Day Fiancé as the premise of an Alexa Skill. For the uninitiated, 90 Day Fiancé has become a wildly popular reality franchise for the TLC television network where cross-continental couples must overcome cultural obstacles within the constraints of a ninety day visa approval process.
I had just started working on gathering data for a trivia game Alexa skill based on 90 Days, when a hackathon was announced. I decided that it was a perfect opportunity to complete this skill idea, get familiar with newly introduced Alexa functionality, and create a hackathon entry all at the same time.
The premise of the hackathon was to utilize the recently introduced APLA, which stand’s for the Alexa Presentation Language for Audio. The Alexa Presentation Language (APL), which provides the ability to provide a visual experience to Alexa-enable devices with screens, has been around for a while. I first used APL on my skill Never Always. ALPA introduced even more opportunity to enhance the Voice First experience by providing new ways to tweak audio.
One of the new capabilities of APLA is being able to layer Alexa voice responses with streaming audio such as music and sound effects. Previously if you wanted to mix Alexa’s voice with music, you had to pre-render it, which was time-consuming and limiting. My goal from the outset was to utilize this ability to seamlessly enhance the user experience by melding Alexa’s spoken voice with music. The result was meant to be subtle, and likely unnoticeable to the user. Not overly exploiting things most likely wouldn’t make me stand out in the hackathon competition, but as I mentioned, the hackathon was more an impetus to learn and experiment.
I would say the biggest challenge for me working with APLA was changing a mindset that I had grown accustomed too and comfortable with. Instead of thinking through the implementation of APLA throughout the development process, I fully developed the skill without using APLA, and then went to shoe-horn APLA into my Skill in after it was pretty much done with the project. In retrospect, it probably would have been more productive to try and get a grasp of the APLA process prior to beginning the development process. If I would have allowed for this it is likely the process might have been a shorter and I may ave been able to push things a little further.
The development process always ends up more complex and time consuming than expected; that is a given. However, despite that I made the hackathon deadline, ended up with a pretty solid Voice First game, and I learned about APLA along with a heck of a lot about voice development.