Under Pressure

Shaq & Melissa McCarthy bring their voices to Alexa

It’s never a bad time to post this Google commercial (originally created in 2012) which has a bit of a different interpretation as a result of the pandemic. Worth watching.

“Under pressure” might as well be the name of the entire voice/AI landscape, as we’ve got competition heating up in almost every single industry vertical, for market share within every part of the voice tech / conversational AI value chain.

With increased competition and more saturated markets necessarily comes experimentation.

Amazon announced today that Alexa users can choose between two new celebrities to “customize their Alexa experience”: NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal and popular actress Melissa McCarthy.

In Amazon’s press release, they casually mention that their first experiment along these lines, involving Samuel L. Jackson, resulted in one of the top purchases in the Alexa ecosystem.

These new celebrity voices are integrated in simple ways - either can give you a weather report, either can tell you a quick story on command, either can tell you a joke, and the addition of both adds something to the experience.

Stuff like this makes using Alexa fun (click video below) and gets people thinking about their voice assistant in a little bit different way.

The main gripe with this announcement is that most purchasers of Shaq and Melissa McCarthy’s voice experiences will not realize they are simply bundles of pre-recorded audio. Instead, they will assume they are purchasing a full-on replacement for Alexa’s voice.

Reviews from Samuel L. Jackson’s Alexa skill show that while most gave positive reviews, the negative reviews were often for this precise reason.

This announcement from Amazon also drops a completely unrelated bombshell toward the end of it: in addition to the wake words of Alexa, Amazon, Echo, and Computer, you can now select “Ziggy” as the wake word for the assistant.

Humorously, absolutely no explanation is provided for this addition.

I admire Amazon’s fearlessness and willingness to experiment. It is why we have a slew of voice/AI advances that we otherwise wouldn’t have had, from the Alexa developer program to Echo Buttons to these celebrities contributing their talents.

Limitations of these celebrity voices aside, their presence adds value to the Alexa ecosystem and raises the bar in an increasingly competitive race with Google to provide new and different types of content to an ever-expanding universe of users.

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