Echo

5 Tips for Giving Alexa a New Voice

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                       Do you know someone that would make for a great Alexa Voice? As much as we enjoy a good Joke from Alexa or a quick update on the weather, her voice playback doesn’t always align in providing the unique brand experience you might want to create. Fortunately, the platform with the right voice talent capabilities allows you to substitute Alexa’s voice for something a bit more...

Customizing Alexa’s Voice

Recently, we’ve worked with our great partner at Cecilia.fm to build out a new skill for a client that is uniquely voice-branded. As part of the project, we thought we share a couple of tips for changing Alexa’s voice.

  1. Write out your complete script and build it with Alexa’s voice first

While writing out your script first seems obvious, building it using Alexa’s native voice first is a must. It will save you time in the long run and help you to plan out each transition in the conversation, so you can build out a very complete Voice asset list.

  1. Don’t forget the unexpected while you have your Voice Talent

Outside of your expected dialogues in your conversation map, don’t forget that errors can occur during a conversation if you don’t have the correct Audio files. Consequently, this will make for an awkward experience transitioning from your voice actor to Alexa voice and back. While cutting audio in the studio, make sure you account for the “Oops”, “That wasn’t supposed to happen”, and all those unexpected awkward moments.

  1. Keep your response pieces under 90 seconds

The only way you will be able to change out of Alexa’s voice is to use the SSML <audio> tag. The amount of SSML Audio playback for a given response is a hard limitation of 90 seconds. Likewise, even though you can use multiple <Audio> tags in a single response (up to 5), the sum of all that audio cannot be greater than 90 seconds.

  1. Using Audio over 90 seconds

If your skill requires Audio that is longer than 90 seconds, you need to use the Audio Player inside your code and your user will be exited out of the skill once the audio finishes. Unfortunately, this is a limitation to the Audio Player for now. If you need to use the Audio Player, it may be helpful to let the user know that they are leaving the skill at the end of the Audio file that plays. Also it is a good practice to kindly remind them on how to get back into the skill to encourage repeat visits.

  1. Using SSML in Slot Filling

If your skill needs to use Slots to capture key data from your users, you can use SSML <Audio> in Alexa Speech Prompts for Slot Filling and Slot Confirmation. However, there can be issues with the SSML formatting if you are entering it using the Alexa Skill Kit interface. We recommend you use the JSON Editor to make the changes in the JSON code directly to ensure the SSML tag is formatted properly. This approach also allows you to make sure you are escaping characters properly to prevent any extra spaces in between you Slot variables and the SSML tag.

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Snippet of Code

For example, here’s a snippet of a JSON file where we used SSML to playback a custom Audio file based on a prior input from the user. In the skill, we ask the user for the length of time they would like and store it in the variable {time}. We then use that {time} variable as part of an URL construct to call a custom audio file.  

Creating a Unique Voice Experience

Leveraging a custom voice can create a very unique and engaging experience for your end-users.  The effort to do so requires a bit more planning and some massaging of the code, but it is worth it at the end. The developer forum at Amazon is a great resource to leverage and we’d be happy to help you if needed. Feel free to drop us a line.

Cheers -

Jay

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Owner: Fabian Hurnaus

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Edited with Adobe XD

Voice Apps are the New Mobile Apps of the Day

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The Voice Assistant and Voice Interface market for the past few years has experienced an increase in demand for high quality voice apps. Although the market as a whole is in the growth stage, the need for well designed voice apps has arrived.

Voice Assisted Devices

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Smart speakers, and devices with voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant has boomed in the past year. If you look farther down the line, analysts predict that by 2020, up to 75% of all US households will have some sort of smart speaker in the home. There is no doubt that this market, just like the mobile phone market of the late 2000s, will see a massive influx of voice apps to support that consumer demand.

Voice Assisted Applications

The Alexa App Store is glutted with daily briefings and trivia apps. But analyzing the usage of most apps you see that many people will use a skill once and never “touch” it again. The market is longing for valuable voice interactions that give users cause to interact with them on a regular basis.

Benefits of Adding Voice to Your App

Companies have seen three main benefits from implementing voice interactions into their apps. 1) By receiving exactly what consumers are asking, businesses are able to tailor content on other platforms to best fit the information customers are looking for.  2) Some companies have found that voice interfaces can fill needs otherwise unreached by standard interface structures and 3) they have also seen that consumers feel that voice can be much more convenient and immediate than their traditional content acquisition solutions.

For more information on getting a voice app developed and launched along with a full report on the voice assisted market, get in contact with us here.

Is Voice The New Touch?

Gone are the days when your home’s IoT devices are controlled through your smartphone or web browser. With smart speakers entering more and more consumer residences, smart home  product interactions have shifted to include non-tactile interfaces which foster unique experiences. Consumers have shown that they are behind the shift, as the number one selling product during Amazon’s Prime Day on July 12 was their Echo Dot. The ability to execute commands and receive information passively without directly changing your task at hand seems to be highly valued by users. Another important feature about these products is that they can be easily integrated to work with other devices as control hubs. With the release of Google Home last November, and the arrival of a second giant to the playing field, the smart speaker/virtual assistant market entered the growth stage of its product life cycle. Prior to this, Amazon’s Echo series had controlled the market with other products launching, but either not creating traction, or having a large enough ecosystem to give them a retainable foothold. While both the Echo and the Google Home have similar functionality, the way in which they interact with other products along with the ecosystem architecture lends for different experiences depending on what product you use. Both products allow users to integrate other devices and services into their voice controlled environments, but use different methods to achieve the same purpose.

Being the first major smart speaker in the market, the Amazon Echo has had a massive lead over Google Home. This is represented in the number of Echo Skills, what amazon calls its voice apps, that have been developed since they released their device. A staggering 15,000  skills have been developed as of June 2017, but it is important to note that a large number of these have only been installed under 100 times. Skills are either integrations or dedicated apps for the device. Skills have been available for the Echo since launch with developer support from the beginning. Skills are handled through an app store experience where you to install individual skills onto the Echo based on users interests. Google takes a different approach with their Google Actions, their version of the same kind of app. Actions are not separate apps that need to be installed on the Google Home, rather Actions get directly integrated into the Google Assistant and can be used immediately by users. Users can still browse available Actions through a directory. This has the benefit of not requiring users to choose apps they need ahead of time. Conversely with Actions, users may find that there are more features than they actually use build into the system.

Neither Amazon or Google’s ecosystem is very challenging to integrate into current systems with straightforward processes for implementation. Both platforms have similar introductory courses on building a simple fact based app for either Alexa or Google Home. Both programs have incentives for developers to build on their platform. Google is currently trying to increase their total number of Actions through cash prizes, while Amazon has a longstanding rewards programs including Echo dot and other perks.

We suggest that the first voice based platform you introduce your product on be Amazon’s Echo through their Skills. There are currently many more users, the build time for the integration is similar to Google’s and if you are in individual developer you are more likely to get some Echo merchandise by releasing a Skill. The caveat that is the Amazon will require you to produce documentation to inform users to install your Skill. But in the short term, it is more likely that your user will actually own Amazon’s product over Google’s. Long term, Google will be a better system, because they have a much more established and wide reaching ecosystem, along with stronger computing potential. Currently their market share is much smaller than Amazon making them a less beneficial first development choice.'

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Do you have an IoT project you need help with? Bluefin Technology Partners helps companies build amazing connected solutions. We understand the complexity and collaboration required between organizational disciplines in order to deliver an IoT product to market on time and on budget.  We provide the services needed to assess your market, manage your partners, and shepherd your project through successful launch.