Developers making voice apps for Amazons Alexa can now use different voices to power their experiences. The voices are being provided for free through the AWS text-to-speech service Polly. Created in 2016 with the same conversational AI that powers Alexa, Polly can speak in nearly 50 voices in 24 languages, but at its start, only eight Polly voices synthesized to sound more human are being made available in developer preview for English-speaking Alexa skills in the United States. Prior to the introduction of voices from Polly, developers were able to change a voice in a skill experience with the use of pre-recorded MP3 files. Skills developers will be able to add Polly voices using Speech Synthesis Markup Language (SSML). First introduced for Alexa last year, SSML is a set of tags that can be added when constructing an Alexa skill for human-sounding expressions like Boom! and Bada Bing, noises like sighs and expletive beeps, and the ability to lower Alexas voice to a whisper. The ability to use different voices is the latest feature extended to Alexa developers. In-skill purchases opened for Alexa developers in the U.S. earlier this month. The news comes a week after Google gave its Assistant six new voices, plans for an Assistant voice with singer John Legend, and the debut of Duplex, AI that uses WaveNet speech synthesis to generate a human-sounding voice that makes reservations or schedules appointments over the phone. No word yet on when Alexa will get more voice options or the ability to give users the choice to speak with a male or female voice.
On Wednesday, Amazon unveiled a preview allowing developers to use eight Amazon Polly US English voices for their Alexa skills for free, to make the skills more engaging. Adding new voices into a skill can make it more interesting for customers to use, according to an Amazon blog post. Developers may want to use the preview to give different voices to characters in games and stories, for example. Amazon Polly is a text-to-speech service that uses advanced deep learning technologies to synthesize speech that sounds like a natural human voice, according to the post. This allows developers to create speech-enabled products, and apps that talk to users. With voice becoming a more popular input, businesses can use Polly to differentiate their offerings on Alexa. Amazon Polly can also be used even if you already use multiple voices in your skill through .mp3 files or other techniques, the post noted, as Polly offers more natural-sounding voices and is easy to maintain. For developers with skills that use only one voice, changing it or adding another in the right place may offer a more engaging experience for customers, according to the post. " Using Amazon Polly, you can choose a different voice for any utterance by using the Structured Speech Markup Language (SSML) and specifying an Amazon Polly voice using the 'voice name' tag," the post stated. "It's as easy as that. You can even use an Amazon Polly voice for every utterance in your skill if you like. " Developers can apply for the preview today by filling out a survey with ideas for using Amazon Polly voices in your skill. Amazon will provide more information to those who are selected. Those who are not chosen for the preview will still receive information on using Amazon Polly voices in Alexa skills when it is available. Creating engaging skills can pay off: Developers can make money through Alexa skills using in-skill purchasing or Amazon Pay for Alexa Skills, the post noted. Skills that drive high customer engagement can also lead to a payday for developers through Alexa Developer Rewards. To learn more about how to become an Alexa developer, click here.