Shhhhh…Why Alexa Is Speaking In Whispers

Shhhhh…Why Alexa Is Speaking In Whispers
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In this guest post, The Works’ digital producer Tomas Haffenden (main photo) Takes a look at Alexa’s new ‘whisper mode’ and what it means for brands and marketers…

Smart speakers, despite their increasing popularity, have a significant problem. Beyond providing the essential ability to turn an expanding number of things on and off, the big boys (Google, Amazon et al.…) are yet to find a killer feature.

Part of the problem for voice has always been how many of our interactions with technology are not suitable for public broadcast. But Alexa has an answer – Whisper mode.

Alexa’s new whisper mode which was announced earlier this week, is…well, exactly what you think it is going to be. Once activated, if you whisper your request to an Alexa enabled device, it will respond in a whisper. Alexa defines a whisper, for anyone interested, as volume level three.

Once you turn it on and start playing with it, you are likely to notice two things. Firstly, after a few failed attempts to get it to respond, it dawns on you that you are trying to whisper to a robot. A feeling of humiliation descends, as you see the eyes of loved one roll and feel your face contort into a look reserved for public displays of tech failures. It worked earlier.

The second is when it works as advertised. There is something deeply unsettling to have a robot understand and respond in a whisper. Something normally reserved for private conversations or secret hissed comments are now places where the robots live.

So is there a point of a whisper mode? The simple answer is yes.

An increasing list of IoT connected devices mean Smart Speakers current primary feature, the ability to turn stuff on and off, is actually really useful. As many parents will testify, anything that aids in your ability juggle (sometimes literally) children and simple tasks is more than welcomed.

An area of fiction, however, used to be the visual and audio cue that your response has been actioned. Particular when dealing with the active grenade that is a sleeping baby. Dimming and shutting off lights and music with a whisper suddenly becomes something you can’t imagine ever live without.

This new mode represents a great example of the incremental gains that voice UI is making. Despite its lack of a killer feature, what voice is doing is shaving off tiny pieces of time and effort from our day.

If you can get over how creepy whisper mode is, it represents a great feature and yet another example of Amazon getting to market first, but shhhhhhh, don’t tell Google.

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The Works Tomas Haffenden

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