When voice assistants began to emerge in 2011 with the introduction of Siri, no one could have predicted that this novelty would become a driver for tech innovation. Now nearly eight years later, it’s estimated that every one in six Americans own a smart speaker (Google Home, Amazon Echo) and eMarketer forecasts that nearly 100 million smartphone users will be using voice assistants in 2020.
Brands such as Amazon, Google are continuing to fuel this trend as they compete for market share. Voice interfaces are advancing at an exponential rate in industries of all kinds, ranging from healthcare to banking, as companies are racing to release their own voice technology integrations to keep pace with consumer demand.
The main driver of the shift towards voice user interfaces is the changing user demands. There is an increased overall awareness and a higher level of comfort demonstrated specifically by millennial consumers. In this ever-evolving digital world where speed, efficiency, and convenience are constantly being optimized.
The mass adoption of artificial intelligence in users’ everyday lives is also fueling the shift towards voice applications. The number of IoT devices such as smart thermostats, appliances, and speakers are giving voice assistants more utility in a connected user’s life. Smart speakers are the number one way we are seeing voice being used, however, it only starts there. Many industry experts even predict that nearly every application will integrate voice technology in some way in the next 5 years.
Applications of this technology are seen everywhere, so where will it take us in 2020 and beyond? We provide a high-level overview of the potential that voice has and 7 key predictions we think will take off in the coming years.
Both Google and Amazon recently announced that both assistants will no longer require the use of repeated “wake” words. Previously both assistants were dependent on a wake word (Alexa or Ok, Google) to initiate a new line of conversation. For example, one would have to ask “Alexa, what’s the current temperature at the hallway thermostat?” and then have to say, “Alexa” again before requesting that the voice assistant to “set the hallway thermostat to 23 degrees.” It would be more convenient and natural for the user to say, “Alexa, what’s the current temperature at the hallway thermostat?” and then simply say “set my hallway thermostat to 23 degrees,” without requiring the wake word again, and now that’s possible.
Consumers use voice assistants in specific locations, usually while multitasking, and can either be alone or amongst a group of people when using them. Having devices that can decipher these contextual factors make a conversation more convenient and efficient with these devices, but it also shows that developers behind the technology are aiming to provide a more user-centric experience.
When it comes to integrating voice technology with other products, Amazon has been ahead of the game. Those who use Alexa will be familiar with the fact that the voice assistant is already integrated into a vast array of products including Samsung’s Family Hub refrigerators. Google has finally caught on and has announced Google Assistant Connect. The idea behind this technology is for manufacturers to create custom devices that serve specific functions and are integrated with the Assistant.
In 2020, we will see a greater interest in the development of voice-enabled devices. This will include an increase in mid-level devices: devices that have some assistant functionality but aren’t full-blown smart speakers. Instead, they communicate with your smart speaker, display or even perhaps your phone over Bluetooth where the processing happens on those devices. Amazon is already well on its way with an Alexa-enabled wall clock.
Voice search has been a hot topic of discussion. Visibility of voice will undoubtedly be a challenge. This is because the visual interface with voice assistants is missing. Users simply cannot see or touch a voice interface unless it is connected to the Alexa or Google Assistant app. Search behaviors, in turn, will see a big change. In fact, if tech research firm Juniper Research is correct, voice-based ad revenue could reach $19 billion by 2022, thanks in large part to the growth of voice search apps on mobile devices.
Brands are now experiencing a shift in which touchpoints are transforming to listening points, and organic search will be the main way in which brands have visibility. comScore data even reveals that 50% of all search will be via voice tech by 2020.
As voice search grows in popularity, advertising agencies and marketers expect Google and Amazon will open their platforms to additional forms of paid messages.
Voice assistants will also continue to offer more individualized experiences as they get better at differentiating between voices. Google Home is able to support up to six user accounts and detect unique voices, which allows Google Home users to customize many features. Users can ask “What’s on my calendar today?” or “tell me about my day?” and the assistant will dictate commute times, weather, and news information for individual users. It also includes features such as nicknames, work locations, payment information, and linked accounts such as Google Play, Spotify, and Netflix. Similarly, for those using Alexa, simply saying “learn my voice” will allow users to create separate voice profiles so the technology can detect who is speaking for more individualized experiences.
We’ve previously discussed the method of using user-centric push notifications as a means to re-engage users with your app, voice technology presents a unique means of distributing push notifications. As a way to increase user engagement and retention, push notifications simply remind users of the app and display relevant messaging to the user. Now that both Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa allow the user to enable spoken notifications for any third-party app that has the compatibility, users can hear notifications rather than read them. These notifications are generally related to calendar appointments or new content from core features.
CES 2019 continued to prove that voice and visual displays are merging into one seamless experience. This year Google showcased what is being called the E Ink screen. This display can show the weather, local traffic information, or calendar events. The push to bring visual and voice capabilities together allow users to further interact with the assistant.
Forty-one percent of voice assistant users are concerned about trust and privacy according to a report from Microsoft. With news from Google I/O and Amazon’s re:MARS conferences announcing that assistants will essentially be able to plan an entire evening, for example, find local movie times, buy tickets, book a restaurant reservation and schedule an Uber, concerns regarding payments and sensitive information are valid. Voice payments, in particular, will become more secure and convenient for users to make purchases. Speaker verification and ID will also become paramount as part of the voice assistant experience with more security being built around the user.
Mobile phones are already personalized, more so than any website. Additionally, there is very little screen space on mobile, making it more difficult for users to search, or navigate. With larger product directories and more information, voice applications enable consumers to use natural language to eliminate or reduce manual effort, making it a lot faster to accomplish tasks.
Rogers has introduced voice commands to their remotes allowing customers to quickly browse and find their favorite shows or the latest movies with certain keywords, for example, an actor’s name. Brands need to focus on better mobile experiences for their consumers and voice is the way to do so. Users are searching for quicker and more efficient ways of accomplishing tasks and voice is quickly becoming the ideal channel for this.
Whether that’s finding out information, making a purchase, or achieving a task, voice is the new mobile experience. It’s clear that brands are racing to figure out their voice strategy. With over 100 million Alexa devices being sold alone, there’s a reason why businesses are looking to catch up.
Even with just that handful of simple scenarios, it’s easy to see why voice assistants are shaping up to become the hubs of our connected homes and increasingly connected lives.
Voice technology is becoming increasingly accessible to developers. For example, Amazon offers Transcribe, an automatic speech recognition (ASR) service that enables developers to add speech-to-text capability to their applications. Once the voice capability is integrated into the application, users can analyze audio files and in return, receive a text file of the transcribed speech.
Google has made moves in making Assistant more ubiquitous by opening the software development kit through Actions, which allows developers to build voice into their own products that support artificial intelligence. Another one of Google’s speech-recognition products is the AI-driven Cloud Speech-to-Text tool which enables developers to convert audio to text through deep learning neural network algorithms.
This is only the beginning of voice technology as we will see major advancements in the user interface in the years to come. With the advancements in VUI, companies need to start educating themselves on how they can best leverage voice to better interact with their customers. It’s important to ask what the value of adding voice will be as it doesn’t always make sense for every brand to adopt. How can you provide value to your customers? How are you solving their pain points with voice? Will voice enhance the user experience or frustrate the user?
In 2020, voice-enabled apps will not only accurately understand what we are saying, but how we are saying it and the context in which the inquiry is made.
However, there are still a number of barriers that need to be overcome before voice applications will see mass adoption. Technological advances are making voice assistants more capable particularly in AI, natural language processing (NLP), and machine learning. To build a robust speech recognition experience, the artificial intelligence behind it has to become better at handling challenges such as accents and background noise. And as consumers are becoming increasingly more comfortable and reliant upon using voice to talk to their phones, cars, smart home devices, etc., voice technology will become a primary interface to the digital world and with it, expertise for voice interface design and voice app development will be in greater demand.
Advancements in a number of industries are helping digital voice assistants become more sophisticated and useful for everyday use. Voice has now established itself as the ultimate mobile experience. A lack of skills and knowledge make it particularly hard for companies to adopt a voice strategy. There is a lot of opportunity for much deeper and much more conversational experiences with customers. The question is, is your brand willing to jump on this opportunity?