Friday 29 June 2018

Voice - its beginning to be everywhere

Voice. And by Voice I mean the advent of a Voice based UI for systems is beginning to be everywhere. Since exploding onto the scenes in 2006 based on mobile phones its grown almost exponentially. Looking at its latest incarnation - the smart speaker (Amazon Alexia and Google Home are examples) recent estimates show around 50 million American’s have access to one of these in their home, although true sales figures are a little hard to come by but various estimates indicate that around 34 million smart speakers were sold in 2017 and we are heading for a further 57 million this year...!

OK its accepted that some homes will have more than one (we for example have three) but, there is probably significantly over 100 million smart speaker enabled homes out there on a global basis and the number is only going to continue to increase dramatically going forwards. Amazon Echo as first to market is comfortably in first place with around 70% market share. A bit more research to share with you – around two thirds of smart speaker owners interact with their speaker on a daily basis and three in four on a weekly basis.

This is now taking us down the path to where smart voice initiated conversations can become the default interaction point which is a significant shift from where we have been over just the last couple of years. So what does this mean for us, businesses and their customers?

Reflecting back - this level of growth is not surprising really people like things that are low effort and being able to issue commands into the air and have them acted on lines up to that expectations. In the world of science fiction its hardly a new idea (HAL anyone or Star Trek's "computer"...) Listening to music used to involve finding a CD or more recently searching for the track on your ipod... Now you can just ask for it by name and it starts playing – with access to an almost infinite catalogue of titles to choose from too. Similarly in my "new" world of television you can just about ask to watch EastEnders on BBC iplayer and off it goes.

Just last month Google revealed at their IO conference that you can now book an appointment using its voice generation and smart AI, all based on you issuing a voice command. The reason they are doing this - a lot of businesses still do not have booking systems on the internet and rely on the phone (like hairdressers, dentists etc) as the cost for them of setting up online booking isn't worth it as they are not "national" brands.

So what does this mean for us - well in my view as a consumer of the technology the world can only get easier to interact with. Those days of searching for a device with a screen will pass, it will simply be a case of asking the "air" and things happen. For us at home we have already automated the lights and heating (not much help in this hot weather) to be voice driven. For my children this is their normal world too - it will just become their default way of technology interaction.  You don't need to be able to spell octonauts when you try and type it into YouTube instead you can just ask "hey google play octonauts". Much easier for a 5 year old.

As for businesses - well, the days of optimising around a website that fits on a mobile phone or creating an app will probably dwindle. The focus will shift to writing skills and other voice controlled engagements. Shopping is the most natural one to make the shift particularly around ordering food/take aways. If a business doesn't yet have a voice strategy then its probably about time it started to think about it. There is one question to consider as well - How can you be sure the person speaking/ordering from you is who you think they are?

Also, for now there are also a lot of challenges for the speaker manufacturers to overcome. For example - becoming much better and more contextual aware to allow a form of conversation instead of needing to repeat the "activate" command. Further, how to handle humour or jokes being given to the speaker or irony. Then there is the complexity of a mixed speaker environment and how to manage those interactions - could you mesh together Alexia and a Google Home for example?

I think Voice is really exciting, its still early days but its a technology I'm enjoying embracing.

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