Job Explorer - for kids is inspired by themed activity books for children and bringing those elements to life in a multimodal way on Alexa. Activity books contain information, facts, anecdotes and games about things like animals, places etc. and I have chosen 'jobs' as the theme because kids love to explore what they can be when they grow up.
What it does
Job Explorer provides an interactive exploration environment for children learning about the different professions in the world. It has launched with four professions, they are: astronaut, doctor, musician and Australian tour guide. Each profession is championed by a fictional character (voiced by AWS Polly) to help immerse the user into the world of that job. Users can learn about the personal story of the character, get facts about the job, learn about related jobs and complete up to four badges focusing on core elements of the job. To earn a badge, the user needs to answer five questions correctly. Badge progress is saved so the user can complete them over any period of time.
How I built it
It is built on a typical architecture of lambda for application logic, DynamoDB for user data and S3/CloudFront for content hosting. It integrates the Alexa Presentation Language (APL) for display supported interfaces and Alexa Polly integration for shifting between characters.
There are two tailored VUI experiences, one covering the Echo Dot and Echo Spot (i.e. voice dominant) and the other covering the larger display devices (i.e. display oriented). Each of these VUIs contain their own display methods, for the Echo Dot (and other non-APL supported devices), a carefully designed 'standard' card is sent to the Alexa App. For the Echo Spot, a minimal APL template is sent to the device that enhances the voice experience without requiring the user's attention to the screen. For the larger devices (Echo Show, Fire TV etc.) fully featured landscape and portrait APL templates are provided depending on the height width ratio. Portrait mode is supported to cater for devices which could potentially require portrait orientation such as the Kindle Fire HD 8.
Challenges I ran into
Testing APL is a challenge. It is a new capability with lots of features that may or may not be useful in my skill. Rather than diving right into the code I built a barebones Alexa Skill which allowed me to test and audition various APL features with a view to finalizing the VUI/GUI design. Once the design was done, it was simply a matter of mapping my data structures into the APL and adding application logic. I won't downplay it though, with 7 screens and 3 form factors I had 21 APL configurations to test and tweak, it was tough.
Accomplishments that I'm proud of
Fully featured multimodal Alexa Skills are beautiful and I'm really happy to have one in my portfolio. I can now go into an APL project knowing full well what is required and what the end result will look like.
What I learned
I learned that multimodal based skill design is a nuanced space that can create really natural customer interactions. I think that all major brands / skills on Alexa should adopt mutimodal design due to the massively enhanced customer experience it offers. It is a lot of work, but if you have the resources, you should definitely make use of it to improve customer experience.
What's next for Job Explorer - for kids
More jobs can be added over time, so I'll look into that. More immersive content such as additional sounds and video is also an option. I'm looking forward to seeing how customers engage with the skill and this may help determine the next steps.