Now Alexa’s voice apps don’t 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 Polly’s website.
Amazon Polly was first introduced at Amazon’s 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 Alexa’s 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. It’s also another means of competing with Alexa’s rival, Google Assistant. At Google’s 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.