“What can I help you with? Go ahead, I’m listening.”
The rise and rise of voice search continues
From the personal (Apple and smart watches, phones, cars) to the home-centric (Echo, Dot, Amazon Fire functionality, Google Home), the market is indeed listening and – vitally – responding with myriad voice search technologies.Indeed, higher estimates suggest that up to 25% of searches are performed by voice currently, with as much as 40% of adults using voice search regularly*.
Cortana, Siri, Alexa and even Viv are all listening; and developing new skills and aptitudes at an alarmingly rapid rate. Development of apps or ‘skills’ for the Echo and Dot opened up to third parties as of June 2015, and subsequently Alexa now boasts over 7,000 abilities across a variety of sectors.
Today, Alexa can turn down the lights, order a takeaway and soundtrack your evening. All from simple voice commands. In an age of The Internet of Things, Alexa is the obvious consumer driven answer.
Alexa dominated voice command equipment at this year’s CES in Las Vegas, the technology industry’s go-to tradeshow for innovation. CES is usually a great representation for where the industry is headed in the oncoming months, and voice controlled AI is here to stay.
And what’s even more exciting is that the market is still wide open for developers and businesses, with no one corporation the definitive authority for any given ‘need’. Companies are positively scrambling to develop apps as quickly as possible and insert themselves into this growing niche.
Voice search is significant and no doubt aids in making some tasks easier and even safer, such as voice activated hands free tech in cars.
However, has the rapid advancement in voice search created limitations in technological functionality? Do the bugs in Cortana’s abilities mean it’s doomed to be a passing fad? Does Siri actually save me time and effort, and is Alexa all that great at home?
“Alexa, I want to cook chicken tonight. Find me a recipe with chicken, pasta and tomatoes.”
“OK, here are the recipes.”
Alexa reels off a list of appropriate recipes from Jamie Oliver and I pick one. This is great! I don’t have to consult a book or a SERP! I’m hands free! Now what?
Alexa is hooked up to my personal email, so she mails me the recipe. Email? Amid the chopping boards, running tap and tin opener, I now have to get my phone out. My hands are wet. I just don’t want my phone in the kitchen when I’m cooking, or at least I don’t want to have to physically interact with it.
There is a lack of afterthought to this app. Yes, Alexa has found me a recipe and done the leg work, but when it comes to follow through she has given up at the last hurdle. The joy of voice search is that it removes the need to actually hold or manipulate the technology when you are otherwise occupied, hands free! As it stands currently, Alexa has only removed part of that process which ultimately leads back to the handling of a device.
And this app is not alone in its incomplete user journey, many of them feel more novelty than necessity. Password Generator, Remember Your Keys and Moon Age (where the moon is in its cycle) are all surely doomed to be one-hit wonders, deleted to make room for something that actually has a daily function. Some just need more work; for example, listening to the narrator read me the latest news is just an uncomfortable and artificial sounding experience, one that I am not likely to repeat.
It’s clear that there are still some limits in what voice search tech is capable of and often the user journey in its entirety has not been fully considered. The flow from command to response to action is not seamless, and often a simple typed search would have sufficed. If the need to physically respond to the device cannot be removed, then ultimately the necessity for the voice technology is redundant.
That said, the opportunities are limitless if properly considered from a user perspective. As the voice search technology market matures and app building companies learn from trial and error they will no doubt have service and product offerings that become an essential part of daily living; the ultimate goal for the majority of brands.