The Greek voice of Waze

Google Street View snapshot from one of my first drives on Italian soil, taking my budgies to the vet.

One day, my love for Waze grew even more: it was when they announced that one of my favourite people in the world would be featured as a guest navigation voice: Stephen Colbert.

I have always been a huge fan of Stephen; watching The Colbert Report was an integral part of my daily morning ritual for years. And, as expected, roaming the streets with him as a virtual co-pilot was an absolute blast: his witty remarks brightened up my commutes, and I would even imitate him every now and then.

And one day, just like that, his voice was gone…

It was unexpected, but it made sense. Those voice prompts had been recorded and featured as a way to promote Colbert’s move to The Late Show, following the retirement of David Letterman. These guest voice licenses couldn’t possibly last forever.

I didn’t give up, though; I couldn’t. I scoured the internet, till I found – on Reddit, of course – Colbert’s Waze sound pack along with instructions on how to get it back on my phone. And, just like that, Stephen was my co-pilot, again.

Taking a look at those wav files, though, woke up another passion of mine: customization. I have had custom Windows sounds since v. 3.11, and custom ringtones since those midi files on my Nokia 3310. The possibilities on a GPS app could be endless! My first thought was to make voice prompts out of the good ol’ Starcraft unit voice packs, but then I realized that I could make something better – better than Starcraft?! – out of this. Waze had no Greek language at the time, neither as text on its UI, nor as voice prompts; so I thought of making a Greek soundpack, and maybe even pitching it to the Waze team.

After something like eleven takes on different “ghetto” recording setups, I managed to reach a satisfying result, using Propellerhead’s “Take” on my iPhone, followed by some mild desktop post processing on Adobe Audition. This was the result that I repeatedly tested on the road, till I couldn’t stand listening to myself telling me where to go:

I reached the Greek crowdsourcing community that was already hard at work on the app’s UI text translations and map editing and, after that, I sent my demo to the Waze team.

They were surprised, and impressed. It was the first time that someone had contacted them completely out of the blue with such a demo. And, apparently, that demo didn’t suck!

They commissioned a professional recording of the Greek voice prompts, and provided me with a full list of the necessary voice prompts. After deciding with the rest of the Greek crowdsourcing community on how to translate a few of them, I took the project to my friend Paolo Costola over at MacWave Studios in Brescia, Italy.

Recording the Greek Waze prompts

Recording the Greek Waze prompts at MacWave Studios in Brescia, Italy.

With the voice prompts ready, a final push on translating the last several hundreds of UI strings on Transifex brought us to July 3rd, 2016, when my voice, along with a fully Greek UI, made it to the smartphones of Greek-speaking Waze users all over the world.

It is surreal that my voice is heard by Greek-speaking Waze users all over the world.

Yet, I still can’t stand listening to myself telling me where to go.

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