The new simulator expands existing testing capabilities such as text input, JSON debugging, and visual display by adding features like the ability to test multi-turn conversation, entity resolution, dialog management, and more.
The new documentation states:
The Test Simulator (beta) lets you test your skill within the developer portal without a device.
Why is this necessary? Don’t most developers have access to an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot? The answer comes down to two factors. First, there are developers in parts of the world where Amazon Echo has not been readily available. These new tools mean you can more easily build and test Alexa skills without a device. This was true previously. Nick Schwab is one of the leading developers on Alexa today and launched his first skill before his Echo arrived. However, the new testing features for Alexa Simulator, Manual JSON and Voice & Tone tools should make the process easier.
An Alexa Skill Testing Tool for Echo Show Development
Second, and more importantly, the new Test Simulator will enable users to develop and test for Echo Show Alexa skills. This has been more problematic because Echo Show is only available in three countries and the devices retail for over $200. Both are barriers to enlisting developers to support Amazon’s premium Alexa offering that includes both voice and visual interaction. The other Alexa device with a screen, Echo Spot, is not supported by this release, but is promised for 2018.
Closing the Gap with Google?
A couple of experienced Alexa developers suggested that this update appears to bring Alexa to parity with Actions on Google testing tools, but the API is a differentiated benefit. One developer commented:
I think this brings parity. Actually, Amazon has an API, so perhaps a slight advantage for them. It really looks exactly like what Google offers.
Nick Schwab from InvokedApps expressed a more bullish opinion about the new release.
I’ve rarely used the “old” simulator in the Alexa developer portal since it didn’t support sessions for conversational Skill testing, so I’m very happy that they’ve finally addressed this problem with the …Alexa Test Simulator. The new tool is a welcomed addition for both new and veteran Skill developers who previously had to rely on less-official testing utilities like EchoSim and Reverb, or dish out some hard-earned cash for physical devices.
Bringing these new testing capabilities to Alexa developers, adding and API and Echo Show support is a good step forward. There seems to be agreement that the new feature is more of an incremental improvement than a signifiant advance. With that said, incremental improvements add up and help create an environment that is maturing rapidly.
The tool is available globally and supports English-US, English-UK, English-IN, English-CA, Japanese and German language models. The documentation says that Australian English is not yet supported. Let me know what you think about it on Twitter.