“We are served by organic ghosts,” wrote Philip K. Dick in his science-fiction novel Ubik. “Watching, wise, physical ghosts from the full-life world, elements of which have become for us invading but agreeable splinters of a substance that pulsates like a former heart.”
Born in 1928, Dick was unarguably one of the greatest sci-fi writers of his generation. He was also the first to predict the arrival of voice recognition technology.
Almost three decades after his death, in 2010, a small startup experimenting with artificial intelligence launched a new app for the iPhone. You could ask the app what the weather was like or where you could stop by for some pizza, just like you would a real person, and within seconds, it’d return to you with results on the screen to answer your query.
That may sound all too familiar now, but back then, it was a novelty. Wired called it “the most sophisticated voice recognition to appear on a smartphone yet.” Siri, which was soon acquired by Apple, became the first in the line of the so-called voice assistants. It was followed quickly by Google Voice Search, Amazon’s Alexa, and Cortana by Microsoft.
Intelligent virtual assistants (IVA) are passive listening devices. They’re always running, listening to the conversations happening around them. The voice recognition technology becomes active when it hears you utter a specific wake word, after which, it records your command and parses it for familiar words that it can recognize. You can find voice assistants in smartphones as well as specially designed intelligent speakers.
The Name of the Game
IVAs have come a long way since the early days of the iPhone 3GS. Today, they can connect effortlessly with an entire home’s worth of smart devices, coordinating their activities and allowing them to exchange information through a network known as the internet of things. They also collect and record data to learn more about you and tailor themselves to your needs.
Right now, tech giants are locked in a race against each other to develop the best voice-based assistant. The better the virtual assistant, the sharper its artificial intelligence and the broader its range of compatible devices. According to Adobe Analytics, these are the top three players in the market as of right now:
Alexa: Built by the online e-commerce giant Amazon, Alexa is compatible with over 100,000 smart home devices and can answer a breadth of general knowledge questions. It’s great for shopping and smart home integration. As of now, it’s available on Android smartphones as well as Amazon Echo intelligent speakers.
Google Assistant: Alexa may hold the first place for answering the highest number of questions, but Google Assistant is the one that answers with greater accuracy. It is still relatively new to the market and is therefore compatible with fewer smart devices, but its collection of supported devices grows every day.
Siri: Apple products are known to go exceptionally well with each other but are often incompatible with external systems. Siri is no different. If you are a fan of HomeKit, Apple’s in-house home automation framework, Siri will make a fantastic choice for you. It understands 21 languages, more than any other voice assistant. However, Siri offers little use outside the Apple ecosystem.
There are others, of course. Microsoft Cortana, Samsung Bixby, SoundHound’s Houndify, and Nuance by NINA are some noteworthy examples.
Looking to the Future
Why are voice assistants so popular? Ask a pundit, and they might tell you that it’s their perceived humanity, their ability to bridge the gap between people and machines. They’re probably not wrong; studies show that people are more comfortable interacting with devices that look and act like humans. However, it’s more likely to be a matter of convenience.
Tech companies call it the hands-free experience. In many ways, voice assistants are the new touchscreen. They make devices easier to interact with. But where does it go from here? What is the future of this industry? And what are the emerging trends that businesses need to stay on top of?
- Division of labor: Voice assistants are good at a lot of things. But they’re not experts in any one field. With the help of new features like Alexa Skills and Google Voice Apps, voice assistants can be customized to be even more efficient in a particular area of specialization.
- Talking gadgets: With voice assistants gaining traction, brands are doing more to integrate their products seamlessly with this new medium. This has already resulted in a fascinating array of voice-enabled smart devices, including the LG Home-Bot Vacuum Cleaner, the Honeywell Learning Thermostat, and the Samsung Smart TV.
- Personalized to your liking: Voice assistants are already pretty customizable with support for multiple languages, accents, and gender. But there’s more to come! Imagine being able to choose your virtual assistant’s personality, tone, and behavior. That’s what the future holds.
- Means of communication: Who said that voice assistants must be limited to, well, voice? With exciting developments in the frontiers of facial recognition and brain-computer interfaces, who can say what the future has in store?
- Eyes-free voice search: We’re all familiar with how voice search works. You use the built-in microphone to ask your question, and the device displays search results on the screen. But, as smart speakers become more popular, there is a chance that voice search will be almost entirely voice-based, with narrated search results and web pages implementing podcast-like features.
What This Means for You
As a business, making your brand ready for voice search means delivering an optimal user experience on smartphones and intelligent speakers. That involves adopting a variety of new digital marketing strategies, such as:
- Make your website accessible. That means improving loading speeds and using subheadings and bullet points to break up large chunks of text. These techniques will help keep up with people who have shorter attention spans on smartphones and make it more straightforward for search engines to scan your webpages for important information.
- Implement a text-to-speech feature. Doing so could not only make your website friendlier for visually impaired people but also help improve user experience on smart speakers. There are several excellent text-to-speech conversion tools available on the blogging platform WordPress. If you don’t want a software to automate the process, you could also try to record yourself reading each blog post manually.
- Use Alexa Skills and Google Voice Apps. These are apps with added voice functionality that have been developed specifically with virtual assistants and smart speakers in mind. If you want to make your brand future-proof, consider developing a custom app for Alexa or Google Assistant. That will help improve brand awareness and enhance sales for your business.
Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri continue to lead the voice assistant market with constant innovations, each one more cutting edge than the last. These innovations include specialized apps for virtual assistants, compatible devices with voice control, and added customizability. Looking forward, we could potentially have the ability to control our voice assistants with our minds, or eliminate text-based content almost entirely.
For a business, this means preparing for the future by improving your website’s accessibility, implementing decent text-to-speech technology, and making use of unique apps that add functionalities to virtual assistants.