Happy Holidays with Voice Products

Happy holidays from our team to yours! With new voice products out just in time for the holiday season 2018, we’re ready to add them to our wish list.

Dominating the Holiday Season

Last year, Alexa Echo Dot outsold all other products on Amazon over the holidays and the Amazon’s Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote was the second highest in sales. In addition, the Echo Dot, Echo Spot, and Echo Buttons all sold out during the 2017 holiday season.

Additionally, Google voice products are in high demand. During the holiday season last year, Business Insider predicted they sold at least 6.8 million Home devices.

Amazon is already gearing up for the holiday season and just announced that they will be offering free shipping to all customers during the holiday season starting this Monday. With Alexa products already on sale, we’re certain voice products are sure to be a hit.

What does that mean for you?

Now is your time capitalize on these popular Voice products! The numbers don’t lie. These popular voice products will be the hot gift of the holiday season. Get your company’s skill on the list. Contact us now and beat the holiday rush!

 

Sources:

https://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-offering-free-shipping-to-all-customers-for-holiday-2018-11

https://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/312184/amazon-echo-dot-tops-all-holiday-sales.html

https://www.businessinsider.com/google-home-features-tips-tricks-2018-2 Photo Source: https://www.adweek.com/digital/amazon-has-great-strategy-lure-consumers-echo-exclusive-holiday-deals-174714/

The 5 Alexa Skill Types

5 Alexa Skill Types

5 Alexa Skill Types

The 5 Alexa Skills Types

Alexa skills are like smartphone apps. Skills are voice-driven Alexa capabilities where you can bring your products and services to life. To date, there are over 50,000 Alexa Skills worldwide!

It’s easy to be overwhelmed and confused by these many skills.  Don’t panic, we identified 5 different types of Alexa skills and categorized them so you can get a sense for how a skill strategy may start to layout.

The Informer

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The Educator

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The Transactor

Alexa Skill Transactor

Alexa Skill Transactor

The Entertainer

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The Controller

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Bringing Your Company to the Voice Age

With over 39 millions Americans using smart speakers according to a new research report, you can bet that these numbers are only rising.  Don’t wait, start developing a skill for your business now! Not sure where to start? We’re here to help! Feel free to contact us for a FREE voice skill consultation. 

Your customers are talking - are you listening?

Sources:

Voicebot.Ai:

Amazon Alexa Now Has 50,000 Skills Worldwide, works with 20,000 Devices, Used by 3,500

Brands

TechCrunch:

39 million Americans now own a smart speaker, report claims

Photo Source:

https://www.amazon.com/alexa-skills/b?ie=UTF8&node=13727921011

Alexa Logo:

Amazon Alexa

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5 Tips for Giving Alexa a New Voice

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                       Do you know someone that would make for a great Alexa Voice? As much as we enjoy a good Joke from Alexa or a quick update on the weather, her voice playback doesn’t always align in providing the unique brand experience you might want to create. Fortunately, the platform with the right voice talent capabilities allows you to substitute Alexa’s voice for something a bit more...

Customizing Alexa’s Voice

Recently, we’ve worked with our great partner at Cecilia.fm to build out a new skill for a client that is uniquely voice-branded. As part of the project, we thought we share a couple of tips for changing Alexa’s voice.

  1. Write out your complete script and build it with Alexa’s voice first

While writing out your script first seems obvious, building it using Alexa’s native voice first is a must. It will save you time in the long run and help you to plan out each transition in the conversation, so you can build out a very complete Voice asset list.

  1. Don’t forget the unexpected while you have your Voice Talent

Outside of your expected dialogues in your conversation map, don’t forget that errors can occur during a conversation if you don’t have the correct Audio files. Consequently, this will make for an awkward experience transitioning from your voice actor to Alexa voice and back. While cutting audio in the studio, make sure you account for the “Oops”, “That wasn’t supposed to happen”, and all those unexpected awkward moments.

  1. Keep your response pieces under 90 seconds

The only way you will be able to change out of Alexa’s voice is to use the SSML <audio> tag. The amount of SSML Audio playback for a given response is a hard limitation of 90 seconds. Likewise, even though you can use multiple <Audio> tags in a single response (up to 5), the sum of all that audio cannot be greater than 90 seconds.

  1. Using Audio over 90 seconds

If your skill requires Audio that is longer than 90 seconds, you need to use the Audio Player inside your code and your user will be exited out of the skill once the audio finishes. Unfortunately, this is a limitation to the Audio Player for now. If you need to use the Audio Player, it may be helpful to let the user know that they are leaving the skill at the end of the Audio file that plays. Also it is a good practice to kindly remind them on how to get back into the skill to encourage repeat visits.

  1. Using SSML in Slot Filling

If your skill needs to use Slots to capture key data from your users, you can use SSML <Audio> in Alexa Speech Prompts for Slot Filling and Slot Confirmation. However, there can be issues with the SSML formatting if you are entering it using the Alexa Skill Kit interface. We recommend you use the JSON Editor to make the changes in the JSON code directly to ensure the SSML tag is formatted properly. This approach also allows you to make sure you are escaping characters properly to prevent any extra spaces in between you Slot variables and the SSML tag.

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Snippet of Code

For example, here’s a snippet of a JSON file where we used SSML to playback a custom Audio file based on a prior input from the user. In the skill, we ask the user for the length of time they would like and store it in the variable {time}. We then use that {time} variable as part of an URL construct to call a custom audio file.  

Creating a Unique Voice Experience

Leveraging a custom voice can create a very unique and engaging experience for your end-users.  The effort to do so requires a bit more planning and some massaging of the code, but it is worth it at the end. The developer forum at Amazon is a great resource to leverage and we’d be happy to help you if needed. Feel free to drop us a line.

Cheers -

Jay

Photo Source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-amazon-echo-on-table-977296/

Owner: Fabian Hurnaus

Site: Pexels.com

Edited with Adobe XD

Alexa Skill Arbitration Draws Potential for Business Entry

Gone are the days where users have to dig through the deep depths of the skills marketplace to find the skill that they desire. Amazon recently rolled out a new feature called Skill Arbitration that is going to change the way that skills will be found.

Skills Arbitration:

In the fancy words of Amazon themselves:

"In the coming weeks, we’re rolling out this new capability that allows customers in the U.S. to automatically discover, enable and launch skills using natural phrases and requests."

In layman’s terms, when Alexa doesn’t have the information you ask for, it looks for the right skill to get you the answer. Now it will be possible for smaller niche skills to gain some penetration into the skill market.

Let's say you have a stain on that nice shirt that you were gonna wear to that business meeting, but you don’t know how to get the stain off. Being the tech enthusiast that you are, you decide to ask Alexa. Alexa will gracefully handle your request by suggesting you a skill that can handle the situation of getting a stain off by possibly suggesting the Tide skill as described in the announcement article here.

Why is this important?

With this new functionality, this gives any third-party skill opportunity for exposure all for free! This helps to encourage meaningful interactions between your ideal customer demographic and your third-party skill. No need for paid advertising, your own skills can now market themselves based on your own target demographic. I now envision a frenzy of enterprising scrambling to get their hands on their own skills so that they can get their share in the Skill Arbitration process. Getting a skill in the store today will give any type of business an edge over their competitors. Businesses that leverage voice interfacing will enjoy the fastest growing technology platform to date.

Numbers Don’t Lie:

Graph showing massive growth of smart speaker technology within the past year

 

Analysis of current sales trends hints at forecasted growths that appear to be absolutely astronomical. Due to the extremely high penetration rates of the smart speaker markets, smart speakers are set to become an integral component of the reality we will live in tomorrow. In translation, any type of corporation will hopefully seek Alexa based opportunities to get their share of the emerging technology. Rollouts of the arbitration mixed with a massive consumer demand for smart speakers such as Alexa is a mixture for success when it comes to business.

Forward Thinking:

As of last week, Amazon has also released a new feature for Alexa that allows you to sell products and services as well as subscription services all through Alexa. Monetization is a key component that will enable enterprises to add revenue streams all through voice commands. Have an idea of how you can apply a skill to your own business? Don’t know where to start? Check us out here and feel free to connect with us, we would love to help.

Worcester's Hot Tech Scene

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Fellow Worcester Friends -

As you know, for the past 4 years BLUEFIN TECHNOLOGY PARTNERS has called  WORCESTER home and we’ve been so excited and proud to see its growth.   Since starting as a small independent contractor here at the Worcester Idea Lab, we’ve invested in growing our team with LOCAL RESOURCES.  

We made some great friends, integrated into the community and helped DELIVER AMAZING TECHNOLOGY that has gone on to be recognized nationally on TV programs at CNN & NBC. In the tech field, our work has been included in the wearable product of the year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas as well highlighted by SxSW.

During our own company growth we’ve been able to build-out Software skills 

SPECIALIZING IN:

- Connected Products (INTERNET OF THINGS)

- Amazon Alexa and Google Home Skills (VOICE APPLICATIONS)

CLOUD COMPUTING Applications

Additionally BLUEFIN has been very active in the community here in Worcester, working and advocating for local tech partners, universities, venture forums, chamber events and volunteering time with local charities). We have worked with clients East as far as the Netherlands, South as far as Puerto Rico, and West as far as China (you know if you keep going the other way)… however, to date we are still SEEKING A LOCAL CUSTOMER.

We feel strongly that local businesses supporting local businesses will help drive the prosperity of the technology scene and prove outside the region that Worcester is not only a fantastic breeding ground for great technologist and engineers but for great technology and engineering companies.

This is where I am ASKING FOR YOUR HELP AND SUPPORT in reaching out to our local business’ that utilize technology services.  We are eager to be a strategic Technology partner with those in our backyard.  If you know any local firms that want to talk about technology trends, vision, and roadmaps, please pass along this email and my contact info.  I’d be happy to carve out time and explore ways we could help each other out.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION!

Jay

Google Assistant makes a splash at CES 2018

CES just wrapped up in Las Vegas.  The event, which takes place yearly, is where the cutting edge of consumer products are shown off.  This year had a clear theme -  getting everyday consumer products connected and equipped with voice interfaces.  Refrigerators, mirrors, toilets, televisions, cars, you name it, people are putting voice into it.  We aren’t here to tell you that all of those gadgets are necessary, but we can say that the age of voice interface is ramping up.  It is no longer in the early adopter stage as Amazon has now sold more than 10 million Alexa powered Echo products.  The market for voice products is no longer a 1 horse race, as Google has put a dent in what was once an Alexa only market.  In Q4 of 2017 it was reported that 7.6 million Google Home products sold, that is more than the total smart speakers sold in all of 2016.  That is a massive amount of hardware.  Reports indicate that 2018 will be even bigger for the purchase of smart speakers, with an estimated 56 million speakers to ship.  These voice assistants aren’t exclusive to their companies hardware though.  Google, for example, has their voice assistant on phones and a lot of the new connected products that were shown off at CES.  Reports say that Google’s voice assistant is now available on over 400 million devices!   This is an exciting time to be involved in Voice.  It can be a seamless and satisfying way to interact with a computer.  Over the holidays, the team at Bluefin did a fun in-house project, developing a Google Action for our kegerator.  We had previously built a connected keg, powered by the open-source Kegbot Arduino, and Raspberry Pi software.  A flow meter collects data on the kegs use and a web interface lets the user give input details about the keg, such as beer type and size of the keg.   Since Google Assistant isn’t restricted to one device, the information is available on any device with Google Assistant.  In the office, we use our Google Home to ask the kegbot questions, like “When was the last beer poured,” but we can also access it on a phone with Google Assistant enabled. Imagine you are at a liquor store, and can’t remember if the keg is low, you simply ask the voice assistant, “How much beer is left in the keg?” With what we were able to do in a week with our in house project, the possibilities seem endless for how helpful voice integration will be.

Below is a quick demonstration of some of what the voice assisted kegbot can do:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7fsNlsVhOM&t=18s

 

Designing Connected Health Products People Love

Uplift Cooperative recently attended the Partners Connected Health Conference in Boston's Seaport District.  Uplift attended the event as a sponsor and promoter,  and showed off some of our impressive technologies at our booth in the "Connected Health Pavilion".  We worked with our Uplift Cooperative partner, Cantina, to host a Design Thinking Workshop.  As a follow-up to the very successful workshop, where over 80 people attended, the authors of the Workshop have created a 2-part series blog post about "Designing Connected Health Products People Love".  We are pleased to be a partner of Cantina as part of Uplift and also pleased to present the first part of that series: Several years ago, the designer Jonathan Shariat wrote an arresting blog post entitled “How Bad UX Killed Jenny.” It’s a cautionary tale for anyone working at the intersection of technology and user experience.

It describes how a young patient recovering from an aggressive cancer treatment died in a hospital due to a lack of hydration. Although hydration was part of the recovery protocol, and despite the fact that the nurses on staff each had over ten years of experience, something went terribly wrong. How did they miss this critical information when the charting software was developed precisely to ensure that each step in treatment was taken and properly recorded?

... to find out more about this revolutionary design thinking click here!

Make sure to follow us for part two of this 2-part series.

Voice Apps are the New Mobile Apps of the Day

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The Voice Assistant and Voice Interface market for the past few years has experienced an increase in demand for high quality voice apps. Although the market as a whole is in the growth stage, the need for well designed voice apps has arrived.

Voice Assisted Devices

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Smart speakers, and devices with voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant has boomed in the past year. If you look farther down the line, analysts predict that by 2020, up to 75% of all US households will have some sort of smart speaker in the home. There is no doubt that this market, just like the mobile phone market of the late 2000s, will see a massive influx of voice apps to support that consumer demand.

Voice Assisted Applications

The Alexa App Store is glutted with daily briefings and trivia apps. But analyzing the usage of most apps you see that many people will use a skill once and never “touch” it again. The market is longing for valuable voice interactions that give users cause to interact with them on a regular basis.

Benefits of Adding Voice to Your App

Companies have seen three main benefits from implementing voice interactions into their apps. 1) By receiving exactly what consumers are asking, businesses are able to tailor content on other platforms to best fit the information customers are looking for.  2) Some companies have found that voice interfaces can fill needs otherwise unreached by standard interface structures and 3) they have also seen that consumers feel that voice can be much more convenient and immediate than their traditional content acquisition solutions.

For more information on getting a voice app developed and launched along with a full report on the voice assisted market, get in contact with us here.

Game Changers Business Conference & Expo

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Bluefin Technology Partners attended Worcester Chamber of Commerce’s  Game Changers event October 20th.  During the day long event, many local business’ showcased their products and services.  We had the pleasure of listening to Congressman James McGovern and Anthony Consigli of Consigli Construction discuss the climate of politics and construction in the region.  Mechanics hall was filled with entrepreneurs and business people, excited about how far Worcester has come and where it is going.  Thanks to the hard work of local business’, officials and the Chamber of Commerce, downtown Worcester is thriving!

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Our very own Jay Cahill, Co-founder and Partner of Bluefin,  participated in one of the days many insightful panels.  He spoke to an involved crowd about recruiting and retaining talent from the cities’ many local colleges.  Jay was joined by Ben Pleat of Doorbell, David Crouch of Ten24, and Jessica Walsh of Worcester Wares on the panel.  The panel agreed that the growth of the downtown area has helped develop their companies and attract talent.  Worcester has talented students leaving many of the area colleges, it appears Worcester’s revitalization helps to keep them in the area.

Bluefin has been lucky enough to work out of the Worcester Idea Labs, run by Action! Worcester, for the past 3 years.  The space has been not only beautiful, but great for collaborating with other businesses.  We partnered with Blustream, a connected humidity tracking company, who we worked with to help build their mobile application.  Worcester innovation has been picking up steam; it was great to see it on full display at Game Changers!

Tips & Tricks for Alexa Development

Amazon just released a slew of new Echo products. The new expanded product line-up adds variety to their offering. The new products include:  a reduction in size to the standard Echo, the introduction of the Echo Spot, an alarm clock shaped device with a display. They've also released an accessory that allows you to connect your landline to your Echo ecosystem to make and receive calls through voice interaction. With a great new product line-up we thought it would be a good time to share some tips and tricks we've found during our Alexa development projects. These 6 tips might seem fairly straightforward, but they are always good to remember.

  1. When you write your skill’s example phrases, make sure they don’t contain any, emoticons, symbols, exclamation points, or grammatical errors. Example phrases should only include content that is intended to be spoken exactly by Alexa users. Make sure that if any of your intents allow users to ask about specific things that you don't generalize such as, "Alexa, ask example list to add {item} to my list." If you want to write an example phrase like the one mentioned, it should look like this: "Alexa, ask example list to add carrots to my list." Amazon Help Page

  2. If your Skill connects to an outside service, make sure that the user authenticates their account in the app. If they don't compete the account linking, an error message clarifies that the account isn't properly linked. Additionally, that response must create a card in the Alexa app pointing you towards the Link Account page. Without the proper error handling, Amazon will not approve your skill. Amazon Help Page

  3. Only add intents that are fully developed and deployable to a new version of your skill, or it will be declined. Adding intents that are not fully implemented will be tested by Amazon even if it has no utterances. Use version control well, and you will be in great shape!

  4. Select the example phrases that you display in the skill store from the sample utterances you develop in the skill. If the example phrases are word-for-word, you can be sure that the commands will work. Amazon Help Page

  5. If you do make changes to one part of a skill, make sure that you reflect those changes throughout. This can be an easy mistake to make when changing an invocation name late in the game.

  6. Properly manage sessions, by closing them when a user input isn't needed. When Alexa is expecting a response the microphone should be on waiting for user input, but otherwise should be turned off. During a one-shot request, "Alexa, launch {myskill}", or a help request, "Alexa, launch {myskill} help", you also need to make sure sessions are either open or closed intentionally.Amazon Help Page

These are only some of the tricks we've learned while helping our customers develop Alexa skills. If you need help building an Alexa skill you can go to our  Alexa development page to find out more!