Now Alexas voice apps dont have to sound like Alexa. Amazon today is offering a way for developers to give their voice apps a unique character with the launch of eight free voices to use in skills, courtesy of the Amazon Polly service. The voices are only available in U.S. English, and include a mix of both male and female, according to Amazon Pollys website. Amazon Polly was first introduced at Amazons re:Invent developer event in November 2016, and has been steadily ramping up its capabilities in the time since. The text-to-speech service today is capable of things like whispering, speech marks, using a timbre effect, and dynamic range compression – all which make the voices sound more natural. While the speech engine today supports a couple dozen languages, only the U.S. English voices are being offered to Alexa developers at this time. But their addition could make some of Alexas skills more engaging – especially those involving different characters, like an adventure story or game, for example. Developers today may already be using multiple voices in their skills, but the process of doing so is more cumbersome and rigid, as with mp3 file uploads. To use an Amazon Polly voice instead, developers would use Structured Speech Markup Language (SSML) and then specify which voice they want with the voice name tag. This makes it easier to adjust what is said, as developers could just change the text instead of having to re-record an mp3. Amazon has been working to make Polly more accessible to a wider audience, recently by offering a WordPress plugin that could turn your posts into podcasts. The new Alexa skills integration, meanwhile, gives Polly another avenue of reaching consumers. Its also another means of competing with Alexas rival, Google Assistant. At Googles developer conference last week, the company announced six new voices generated by Wavenet, including one from singer John Legend. These will roll out later this year, and presumably, could make their way to the Assistant developer ecosystem as well.
Amazon today announced a developer preview for Alexa that brings eight new free voices to Skills. Its not quite the vocal overhaul that Google Assistant is getting, but its a start. Heres the deal: Alexas getting two more voices than Google Assistant, but these wont replace the one youre used to hearing – nor are any of them voiced by John Legend. Are you doing business in Amsterdam in May? The new developer preview allows programmers to integrate voices from Amazons Polly, a text-to-speech platform, into Alexa Skills – add-on utilities which include games, entertainment, and new abilities. It wont change the voice you hear when you say Alexa, what time is it? however, which is a bit of a letdown. Why you should care: This gives developers the ability to use different voices without having to upload MP3 files or create custom audio tracks. And making it easier to add diversity to Skills is good for everyone who uses them. According to a company blog 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. Its as easy as that. You can even use an Amazon Polly voice for every utterance in your skill if you like. If a developer wants to create a Skill where, for example, two characters have a conversation (like a female-sounding voice telling a knock-knock joke to a character with a male-sounding voice) theyll now be able to do so without any additional work. The integration is free. Developers interested in the preview can follow this link for more information. Consumers interested in learning more about Alexa Skills can either visit Amazons page or ask their Alexa device to tell them about Skills. The Next Webs 2018 conference is almost here, and itll be . Find out all about our tracks here.