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Amazon Alexa gets Samuel L Jackson and other celebrity voices

Amazon has announced that its virtual assistant Alexa will soon be able to mimic the voice of the actor Samuel L Jackson among other celebrities.

The firm intends to charge a fee for the feature, with each voice costing $0.99 (80p).

The company has also refreshed its range of Echo speakers, adding a larger high-end version with Dolby Atmos for "3D sound".

Amazon is the world's best-selling smart speaker brand.

However, that position is being challenged by Chinese companies including Baidu, while Google is also expected to unveil new gear of its own next month.

Smart speaker shipments

Sound boost

Amazon said it would use a "neural text-to-speech" engine to deliver celebrities' voices, which will use recordings they provide as the basis for other computer-generated utterances.

In the case of Avengers actor Samuel L Jackson, consumers will be given the choice of whether they want a version that swears or not.

The firm said other famous stars - who will be paid for their services - will follow.

Amazon recently announced it was upgrading its music streaming service to a "high definition" format to help its fortunes.

Its new Studio speaker should provide users with a means to appreciate the extra detail it offers.

In addition, the $200 speaker can be paired to one of the firm's Fire TVs to create a home theatre experience.

"Amazon has never really had a smart speaker which was marketed specifically for its audio quality, in the manner of an Apple HomePod or a Google Home Max," commented Ben Stanton from the tech consultancy Canalys.

"Typically, third-parties like Harman and Sonos would be the ones to differentiate in this space on Amazon's behalf.

"If it [lives up to its promise], it will cannibalise these third-party products, and leave little room left for third-party smart speaker vendors to innovate."

Amazon's devices chief Dave Limp addressed users' privacy concerns early on during the launch event at the firm's Seattle headquarters, even showing a tweet it had received complaining about one of its speakers activating without the trigger word "Alexa" being uttered.

"We care about this," he said.

"Privacy is absolutely foundational to everything we do in and around Alexa."

He highlighted the fact that users can now command a device to delete everything they have said that day. In addition, the firm recently added an option to its Alexa app to let users opt out of having their voices transcribed by humans to improve the service's accuracy.

However, some of its rivals - including Apple and Google - have gone further by requiring their users to opt in to similar programmes.

"Privacy is a huge issue for all technology manufacturers and recent revelations show that Amazon is vulnerable," commented Adam Simon from the market intelligence firm Context.

"All our research shows that it is a major concern to consumers.

"Yet, ironically, it is not the most important barrier preventing people buying smart home products. Privacy is far outweighed by lack of understanding, lack of perception of value, and lack of good use cases."

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