If you’ve been saving to add Shaq’s voice to your Alexa devices, you’ve officially screwed up. Amazon is ditching all of its Alexa-enabled celebrity voices, including Shaquille O’Neal, Melissa McCarthy, and, shall we say, not so, Samuel L. Jackson. The various language options will no longer be available for purchase, and will no longer work even if you made a purchase some time ago, The Verge reports.
That brings us to the subject of refunds, and it looks like there won’t be any. This isn’t earth-shattering news, as language options launched for as little as $1 before rising to $5 in the past few months. Still, consumers never enjoy buying something and letting it evaporate into nothing. All is not lost, however, as Amazon has informed Engadget that refunds will be given upon request.
“After three years, we are hiring celebrity voices. Customers can continue to use these voices for a limited time and can contact our customer service team for a refund,” a company spokesman wrote.
Samuel L. Jackson will depart any day, with an official announcement on the purchase page stating that the feature will officially stop working next week. Melissa McCarthy and Shaq will function until sometime in September.
For the uninitiated, this feature was an add-on for Alexa that turned his usual chirping tones into those of a celebrity. This was all quite limited compared to Alexa’s full feature set, as the celebs don’t make reminders and don’t integrate with many skills. However, they tell jokes, answer questions, and complete simple voice-assisted tasks. The service began with Jackson in 2019 but expanded to include Shaq and McCarthy shortly thereafter.
Why did Amazon discontinue the feature? Alexa isn’t the hottest thing in the universe anymore, and the company’s hardware division recently laid off thousands of people involved in designing and manufacturing Echo speakers, so that could be part of it. Again, the functionality of these voices was sparse, so perhaps not enough people were buying them to offset the licensing costs. Finally there is the AI elephant in the room. Amazon is reportedly building its own Large Language Model (LLM) like ChatGPT to radically transform Alexa, and prominent voices may no longer fit that vision.
Update May 30, 2023 2:50 PM ET: This story has been updated to include a statement from Amazon.