'Hey, Disney!' Amazon and Disney welcome a new era of Alexa-like voice assistants
A Disney version of Alexa is coming to Echo devices -- and you can hear a preview now.
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Alexa's not alone anymore. The Amazon Echo has its first new voice assistant -- a Disney-branded personality that brings its movie characters to life with games, bedtime stories, jokes and sing-alongs, among other skills.
It's called Hey Disney -- and saying those words will activate a unique voice that coexists with Alexa on Echo devices, designed by Disney to unlock interactive Disney entertainment. It will be available next year for guests at Walt Disney World hotel rooms and for purchase as an add-on to anyone with an Echo device.
No demo of Disney's assistant has been made available yet, but a preview of the voice will play if you ask Alexa "tell me about Hey Disney," which can also be heard in the video player embedded above.
Disney hasn't said how much this assistant will cost to download at home. But don't think of it as a replacement for Alexa. Hey Disney doesn't go shopping, read the news or control your smart home.
So why pay for something that isn't Alexa? If you have kids, you may already know the answer. This "magical companion," as Disney calls it, can bust out with jokes, trivia or sing-alongs. It summons the voices of characters with stories and interactive games -- not just with Mickey, but also characters from the stories of Pixar, Star Wars and Marvel. And it'll play "soundscapes" as background sounds inspired by movies and theme parks.
It's programmed to do some of the basic Echo tricks, such as tell the time, read the weather, and set alarms (likely in a Disney-sorta-way). Disney says its custom voice has over 1,000 possible interactions -- and if you have an Echo with a screen, there are visual elements, too.
And it's just the start. In a video interview, Dan Soto, vice president of technology and digital at Disney Parks, said the company may add more features -- or use it in new ways.
"This is just sort of scratching the surface on where we can take voice technology for our guests," Soto added. "We got some pretty special ideas on what we can do for the future with it."
The Echo Show 5, a smart display with a 5.5-inch touchscreen, is what's coming to Disney's hotel rooms in Florida. And if you want to go all in on the Disney-fication of the Echo at home, there's a new OtterBox stand that puts Mickey Mouse ears on the Echo Show 5, available to preorder now for $25.
Hey Disney in the hotel
While this voice at home can bring light-hearted fun, there's more value for Hey Disney at its hotels. It can handle some guest room requests, such as asking for more towels or getting help with baggage and checkout. It can also answer questions about the resort, such as when the next bus to Epcot departs, where to find an Italian restaurant, or what time the park opens or closes. Having a computer handle common tasks like that could save time both for guests and for Disney staff on the backend.
With Echo Show 5 devices being added to more than 30,000 rooms, that's a lot of Amazon across Disney property. But these devices are modified for guest privacy: Disney says the camera and calling features are disabled, and the speakers are inactive and muted when a guest enters a room. Guests will have to opt-in to enable the speaker.
There's also no way to purchase something on hotel versions of Hey Disney (So parents don't have to worry about getting surprise pizza deliveries to the room.)
While these Disney hotel Echo devices are focused around Hey Disney, they'll still include some of Alexa's voice. Amazon's OG assistant can answer guest requests to read the news or play music, but it won't turn on the room TV or lights (at least not yet).
It's Alexa for Hospitality, done Disney style
Disney is not the first hotel to put Echo devices in guest rooms. The Alexa for Hospitality program has been around since 2018, with Marriott hotels among the first to participate. It gives hotels the power to control what they want Alexa to be able to do, and it adds more privacy controls for guests, like not recording a history of voice commands.
The Legoland Resort in Florida added Echo Dots to its Pirate Island Hotel earlier this year. A note on the top of the speaker reads: "Ahoy matey, I'm Alexa." There's not a special Legoland assistant or voice, but Alexa can be summoned to tell a pirate-narrated bedtime story or start an in-room treasure hunt. (And yes, this Alexa has pirate jokes.)
Disney's assistant has its own personality and voice because it's the first to launch with Amazon's Alexa Custom Assistant program. It lets companies make their own assistants tailored to a brand personality or special customer need. But behind the scenes, the tech is all from Amazon.
The Alexa Custom Assistant isn't limited to hotels. Brands can put their own twist on Alexa anywhere. It could be a voice in a car that offers special skills tied to a particular vehicle. Maybe you call upon a brand's special assistant for specific activities, like when cooking or working out. Disney is just the first to develop its own with Amazon's technology.
Having multiple assistants on the Echo is new territory for Amazon. But Aaron Rubenson, vice president of Alexa Everywhere, describes multiple voices as calling upon different friends throughout your day.
"You may talk to one friend about their favorite music, you may talk to another friend about their favorite Disney characters or Disney movies," Rubenson said. "In the same way, we think customers should be able to choose to interact with a variety of voice assistants on a given device. Each can have their own skills and capabilities."
It's possible we'll have a future where Echo speakers will be full of different branded assistants. It just may depend on how much people like this new Disney character.