The Fin Alexa Skill

Sam and Kortina, 23 March 2016

Update (August 2016) - Unfortunately our app has been removed from the Alexa Skill Store due to their policies changing. We're hoping to get this addressed but at this time we're unsure if and when we'll be back.

We love the Amazon Echo and what it stands for. It is a glimpse of the near future. We are happy to announce that we now have a Fin integration with Echo. With the Fin-Alexa-Skill you can say things like:

  • “Alexa, ask Fin to remind me to pick up the milk"
  • “Alexa, tell Fin to message Andrew and say dinner was great"
  • “Alexa, ask Fin to find me a restaurant reservation for five at Nopa at ten tonight"
  • “Alexa, tell Fin to book 8am soul-cycle for me tomorrow"
  • “Alexa, ask Fin to send my mom flowers"

Fin can do higher-order tasks because all the requests you make to Fin via Alexa are processed by our AAI, mixing human and machine intelligence, and a deep understanding of you. You aren’t limited to the basic alarms, music, and news oriented skills which the Echo natively nails.

Remember - Find - Message

With the Fin skill, you don’t need to try to speak robot to Alexa to get it to work, you can just speak like a human, and Fin can handle a wide range of natural but complex requests.

Fin is designed to remember things, find answers, and message people for you. When you use Fin to remember, find, and message, Fin will take on more and more of the related and complicated work. For instance, no one wants to ‘remember’ to book a restaurant reservation, they want it done. No one wants a suggestion on where to buy mom flowers, they want her to have the flowers… Which means our skill does a lot more than just store and retrieve information for you.

The Final Interface

The Amazon Echo is one of those products you can’t fully understand until you experience it. It might not intellectually seem like a big deal in the context of Siri and Google Now. Abstractly a microphone and speaker in your kitchen or bedroom doesn’t seem better than one that is always in your pocket.

Once you have a taste of being able to set your wakeup or play music or get the news you want much much more to work on the same seamless terms. The issue, of course, is that the pure technology and data doesn’t yet exist to replace anything more complicated.

So, in many ways, if Echo might be a glimpse at the final interface (before we hook directly into the brain), it isn’t yet a real glimpse of the final service. Fin closes that gap.

The Future of the Fin-Alexa-Skill

In the process of developing the Fin Alexa skill we ran into plenty of areas of opportunity for the future (for both the user and developer ecosystems).

  1. Identity management. You can only have one Fin user linked to one Echo, so if you and your wife both use Fin, only one of you can use the Fin-Alexa-Skill :(

  2. Voice transcription quality. Echo only passes forward text and commands, not the raw voice files. At Fin we use machines and people to do transcription at much much higher quality than machines alone can possibly achieve. To deliver the best service we can, we would love (i) far better voice transcriptions or (ii) a user permission to grant us raw voice file access.

  3. The ability to push to a device. Currently, Echo only supports synchronous responses from a skill. We are strong believers that an asynchronous answer that does exactly what you want is far better than a synchronous reply that gives you an answer that is 80% as good.

  4. Better developer documentation / more complete examples around submission process. It took us several iterations over months to get approved, which was partially on us, but could have been faster with better examples / guides.

  5. Access to programmatic validations behind review process. It seems like review involves an automated validation of the skill web endpoint against a developer's Sample Utterance and Custom Slot Types. The ability to run these validations directly before review would eliminate a lot of time consuming review cycles.

  6. Matters of style / opinion blocking review. A big part of the magic of Alexa, to us as users, is the 'one-shot-request' like: Alexa, ask Fin to find me and Jess dinner at Nopa tonight. Amazon seemed to keep pushing us to steer users to sequential interactions: Alexa, open Fin. How can Fin help you? Find something. Find what? A reservation. Where?...

  7. Skill routing speech recognition problems. We got recommendations like, "Alexa has a hard time recognizing your invocation name. We suggest making it longer, like 'Fin Assistant.'" Luckily, we ultimately were able to hack this by changing our invocation name from 'fin' to 'finn' to get Alexa to consistently handle it, but it feels like a problem we shouldn't have had to worry about.

  8. Deep linking to skills. Once you have an app launched there is no deep linking to install skills via the Alexa app as far as we can tell to help users get going.

These are all solvable issues, but they are real barriers to great skills getting launched.

Conclusion

If you are a Fin user and have an Echo, install and try out the skill. Look for the 'Fin Exploration' skill in the Echo app.

If you aren't a Fin user but want to try, join our wait list. We are still inviting people very slowly / so please be patient, and we will invite you as soon as we can.

If you don't have an Echo yet, buy one. Your first one goes in the bedroom, your second goes in the kitchen. I have 5.

-- Sam & Kortina
sam@finxpc.com
kortina@finxpc.com