Hello, Computer? Welcome to the Age of the Voice Assistant

Hello, Computer? Welcome to the Age of the Voice Assistant

One of the most talked-about tech innovations of late has been the voice assistant.

In the aftermath of CES and SXSW 2018 and after the recent release of Apple’s HomePod, there has been a lot of buzz about these services, and what they mean for the future of the web, e-commerce, marketing, and the way people interface with computers in even the most basic ways.

For years in films and television, voice was depicted as a futuristic and exciting way to interact with computers. From 2001: A Space Odyssey, to Bladerunner, to Star Trek, films featured sophisticated voice recognition technology that has remained elusive and unobtainable, until recently.

The (beta) release of Apple’s voice assistant Siri in 2011 ushered in the most recent wave of advancement in voice tech. Siri has since been followed up by Amazon’s Alexa in 2014 and now Google Home in 2017. Recent advances in speech recognition have pushed the accuracy rate above 95%, which rivals human transcriptionists. Google has also been utilizing machine learning techniques, such as feeding romance novels into its algorithms, to train its Home system to more accurately understand and interpret user’s natural language patterns.

We are already living in a time when nearly half of adults use voice search daily, and the majority of users make voice searches to research any major purchase.

While we can’t really say that voice search has taken over yet, research into trends indicates that more than 50% of all internet searches will be voice searches by 2020. Perhaps more importantly, it has been reported that 55% of 13 to 18-year-olds already use voice search every day.

It seems that voice assistants are already changing the way people interact with computers and the internet. In the last year, the number of searches beginning with “who”, “what’, “when”, and “how” have increased by 61%. This hints that marketers may need to revise their keyword targeting strategies and should begin focusing on common questions that consumers might use to search for products and services.

Many brands are now experimenting with how their customers use search and have been in a rush to get a minimum viable product to market. Google Home ‘Actions’, and Alexa ‘Skills’ are simple programs that allow users to perform a variety of tasks, like ordering a pizza from Domino’s, a coffee from Starbucks, or a taxi from Uber.

These custom applications offer brands a unique way to interact with customers, and those that provide usefulness can help build brand relationships in a new way. This drive to provide utility may be the correct approach, since brand-created Skills for Alexa are the most used out of the more than 15 thousand Skills offered for the Echo platform.

While there is tremendous momentum building behind voice tech, the technology still has challenges to overcome.

Recent surveys show that more than 60% of Americans are still not interested voice assistant tech, and nearly 30% of Americans don’t use voice assistants due to privacy concerns. Globally, a significant portion of users still don’t see the utility of voice search, or see it as being not worth the potential privacy pitfalls.

Recent events have put even more focus on the privacy concerns involved with voice assistants. While users may trust the brand and platform of their voice assistant, the concern remains that this data might be accessible to hackers and identity thieves. Until these concerns are thoroughly addressed, there will probably continue to be privacy holdouts. We only need to look to the history of the smartphone to see how these concerns are usually addressed and will diminish over time.

Voice search is one of the most exciting developments to come along in recent tech history, but it poses many new challenges for marketers and brands. Now is the time to start experimenting, start exploring, and start a new conversation.

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