Who is the Google Maps voice?

Google Maps is one of the most popular and widely used navigation apps, with over 1 billion monthly active users as of 2020. Since it launched its voice-guided directions feature in 2009, the familiar narration of Google Maps has become ubiquitous, providing turn-by-turn guidance to drivers, cyclists and pedestrians around the world.

The calming, polite and slightly robotic voice has become synonymous with Google Maps. As the app has expanded over the years to support directions in car, on foot, by public transport and for cyclists, the voice guidance has adapted and improved but retained familiar elements. For many, hearing that friendly voice provides reassurance that they are on the right path.

With the voice offering instructions in over 40 languages, Google Maps has evolved into an essential aid for navigating unfamiliar routes in any part of the world. The app’s popularity and wide availability on both Android and iOS has made the voice a globally recognized phenomenon.

The Original Voice

When Google Maps first launched in 2005, the voice giving directions was completely computer-generated and robotic sounding. According to this article, early speech synthesis technology in the 2000s resulted in unnatural sounding vocal instructions. The technology at the time simply concatenated pre-recorded words together, without accounting for more natural verbal cadences. While functional, the original Google Maps voice lacked the natural warmth and personality that we associate with human speech. As a result, Google sought to find a more relatable and pleasant sounding voice to guide users on their journeys.

Hiring Voice Actors

Google initially used text-to-speech voices for Google Maps directions when the service launched in 2005. However, as Google Maps grew in popularity over the next few years, Google decided to enhance the user experience by hiring professional voice actors to record directions. According to the voice acting marketplace Voices.com, Google began hiring voice actors in the late 2000s.

Google wanted to use real human voices to make directions sound more natural and relatable. Professional voice actors have training in articulation, projection, and vocal delivery that generic text-to-speech voices lack. Google likely hoped to increase user satisfaction and engagement by having friendly, clear voices guide users turn-by-turn.

The Main Voice

The main voice for Google Maps in the United States is Kelsey. Kelsey narrates the majority of the English-language driving directions in the US (source). She has a friendly, warm voice that provides clear navigation instructions. Though her last name isn’t publicized, she is voiced by Kelsey Grammer’s daughter Spencer Grammer, an American actress and voice artist.

Kelsey was first introduced as the primary voice for Google Maps in 2005. Since then, her calming and familiar voice has provided directions for millions of drivers across the country. Though artificial intelligence now powers some features of Maps, Kelsey’s voice recordings are still used for most directions.

Spencer Grammer was specifically chosen for her clear enunciation and engaging vocal tone. Her recordings aim to provide a smooth and trustworthy navigation experience. Though she remains anonymous, Kelsey Grammer’s daughter brings a down-to-earth personality that shines through in the Maps voiceover.

Additional Voices

While Karen Jacobsen is the main voice of Google Maps, Google employs other voice actors for variety and to represent different voices/accents. As of 2020, Google confirmed using four additional voice actors for Google Maps directions: Antonia Flynn from Australia, Takumi Waoka from Japan, Joanna Lumley from the UK, and Mateusz Doe from Poland.

These additional voice actors allow Google Maps users around the world to hear directions spoken in accents and voices more familiar to their region. For example, Joanna Lumley’s British English voice is available for users in the UK, while Takumi’s Japanese voice is available in Japan. This helps make navigation directions sound more natural.

The voice actor names were discovered when users noticed the different voices and accents when testing Google Maps in various locales. Google later officially confirmed the additional voice actors in the interest of transparency with users.

Voice Recording Process

While the Google Maps voice sounds seamless and automated, it is actually recorded by voice actors in segments. According to research, Google hires voice actors to record a wide variety of phrases and words in a studio (Source). These clips are then stitched together on the fly to create the voice directions. So while the voice may sound computer-generated, it is actually compiled from many human recordings.

The voice actors read phrases that correspond to different instructions the GPS may need to provide, such as street names, directions to turn, and distances. One report estimates that each voice actor records over 1000 phrases in multiple styles and cadences (Source). Google then takes these individual clips and combines them to form complete directions customized for each person’s journey.

By using voice actors to record a large variety of words and phrases, Google can provide voice guidance that sounds natural and contextually relevant. However, the underlying technology is still piecing together human voice clips, not generating speech through fully automated means.

Voice Personalities

Google Maps offers a selection of voice options for navigation, aiming to give each one a distinct personality for users to choose from (source). While initially only having a single female voice, Google has expanded the options to include both male and female voices. According to source, Google puts effort into making each navigation voice unique in terms of tone, cadence, accent, and style. The voice options aim to provide variety so users can pick the one they find most pleasant or enjoyable.

For example, one voice has an upbeat and friendly demeanor, while another is more formal and instructional. Google aims for the voices to feel natural rather than robotic. The personalities are designed to match the use case of navigating directions, with clear enunciation and vocal clarity being priorities. While the options are currently limited compared to other navigation apps, Google does aim to make each voice distinct as it expands its selection.

Voice Options

The Google Maps app allows users to choose from a variety of different voice options for navigation directions. By default, Google Maps uses a computer-generated voice, but you can change it to one of several pre-recorded human voices. Options include male and female voices speaking in various languages and accents. Google frequently adds new voices, often through limited-time celebrity voice cameos, such as Wiz Khalifa, John Legend, and Natasha Mumba.

Users can download additional voice packs from the Google Maps settings menu on Android and iOS devices. Options include celebrity voices like Darth Vader and comedian Kevin Hart. There are also voice packs that emulate Siri and Cortana. Custom voices allow users to truly personalize their Google Maps experience.


Custom voices in Google Maps can help users with disabilities and visual impairments more easily navigate unfamiliar routes. According to a Google blog post, Google Maps recently launched detailed voice guidance specifically made for and by people with vision impairments, to help “everyone navigate with ease.” Users with visual or other disabilities can also activate accessibility features such as keyboard shortcuts, enlarged maps, and in-depth guidance about points of interest along their route.

The Future

Google may eventually move towards using fully AI-generated voices for Google Maps directions. According to an article on digital transformation, “A case in point is consumers’ alarm at the numerous glitches and eavesdropping capabilities in Amazon Alexa’s voice technology.” (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167811618300739) As voice technology continues to advance with machine learning and neural networks, synthesized voices may become more natural and human-like over time.

Fully AI voices could allow for greater personalization and variability in tone and inflection when providing directions. However, consumers may still prefer the familiarity and trust in a consistent human voice actor. Google will need to balance improvements in AI voice quality with maintaining a consistent brand identity and user experience. The future of the iconic Google Maps voice remains to be seen as technology evolves.

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