Voice-driven apps and devices are slowly weaving their way into every aspect of our lives, and many of us already openly admit that we couldn’t manage without them. Is this a passing fad or could voice recognition technology change the way we interact forever?
Computers and smartphones have formed an integral part of our lives for many years now and until recently we had interacted with them through touch alone. Communicating with our devices required the swipe of a screen, the tap of a keyboard or the click of a mouse. But all that began to change in 2008 with the release of the Google Voice Search app on iPhones, and it wasn’t long before the feature was added to an array of Google apps.
Fast forward to the present day and voice recognition apps have become big influencers in the way we communicate with our devices and appliances. In fact, voice recognition software has become so intertwined with our surroundings that many of us now can’t imagine life without it. We have entered a new phase of digital interaction where speed, efficiency and convenience are constantly being optimised, and leading technology brands are beginning to favour voice-based systems over screen interaction.
So just how far has voice recognition technology come since the infuriating interactive voice-response systems of the ‘90s?
Smart Assistants are by far the most well-known of the voice-driven app family, and there are four major players competing for our attention:
- Alexa is Amazon’s cloud-based digital assistant and it builds natural voice experiences that offer users a more intuitive way to interact with the technology they use every day. Alexa is capable of voice interaction, music playback, making to-do lists, setting alarms, playing audiobooks, and providing real-time weather, traffic, and news updates. When connected to the voice-activated Amazon Echo speaker, Alexa also enables users to voice-control thousands of different smart home devices including lights, fridges, TVs and thermostats.
- Apple’s Siri is a well-known digital assistant that has formed an integral part of iOS since 2011. At its time of release, it was limited to basic updates and messaging functions but the virtual assistant has come along in leaps and bounds since then. Siri is now capable of making calls on command, scheduling meetings, launching apps and games, playing music, answering questions, and making restaurant reservations. It can now also integrate with third-party apps, a big step forward for Apple.
- Last year saw the launch of Home – Google’s voice-activated speaker powered by the Google Assistant. Combined with Google Photos, Google Maps, YouTube, and a range of other apps, Google Assistant provides endless integration possibilities, including offering users access to the largest database of information on the planet. Google Assistant offers a personalised user experience that can answer questions, manage tasks, entertain and tailor responses to what it knows about each user.
- The final giant on the market is Microsoft’s Cortana, which comes as standard on Windows and is available for download on Android and iOS. Cortana can set reminders, recognise natural voice, and answer questions using information from the Bing search engine. Cortana can also read your emails, track your location, analyse your browsing history, check your contact list, track your calendar, and understand context and follow-up questions. And, as of this year, you can now use Cortana with smart home and IoT devices.
20 years ago, the thought of integrating with your home and talking to your appliances was reserved for imaginative science-fiction movies. And then the voice-driven “smart home” slowly stepped out of our screens and into our reality. We are now surrounded with a myriad of smart devices that, integrated with the likes of Cortana, Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri, allow us to control different aspects of our smart homes and cars using the power of our voices.
For example, Voice Pod is a nifty little speaker which, when connected to Siri, acts upon simple speech commands to let you control your entire smart home ecosystem. The device not only recognizes common phrases, but it can also learn customisable commands to control anything from TV and music to lighting, thermostats, shades, and security systems. It is official: the future has arrived.
Voice Activated Grocery Shopping
It’s only a matter of time before voice shopping becomes the norm, and a number of apps are paving the way as we speak, including hiku, a smart shopping list app that recognises your voice, scans barcodes, creates lists and remembers past brand preferences. A connected device shopping platform with e-commerce partners in the U.K., France, Australia, and the U.S, hiku it can also check product availability in stores to make sure you always get what you need.
In-Car Speech Systems
One area where voice-activation is making huge strides is in the automotive industry, and in-car speech recognition systems have become an almost standard feature in most new vehicles on the market today. And voice driven apps aren’t just limited to navigation; DriveSafe.ly is a hands-free app that aims to put an end to texting whilst driving by reading and composing your emails and text messages for you so that you can keep your eyes, and hands, on the road.
Voice Activated Fitness
RunGo, available on iOS and Android, is a voice navigation app that lets you map out your run then guides you along the way, while letting you listen to music and take calls. There app includes pre-planned routes for New York, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver, London and Sydney. RunGo also keeps track of time, distance, pace, and calories burned on your run.
Voice Recognition Passwords
The next giant leap for voice-driven technology is the eventual replacement of electronic passwords with voice and facial recognition, as we have already seen with banking giants Barclays, Santander and HSBC. Voice recognition is a more secure form of banking protection because our voices are unique, so by authenticating the user with voice biometrics, enterprises can let their customers get straight to what they want to do while still providing strong two-factor verification.
Many banks are also offering their customers the option to use voice-activated digital assistants to conduct their banking business. Ed Metzger, Santander’s head of technology and operations in the United Kingdom claims that: “This pioneering technology has a huge potential to become an integral part of the future banking experience, playing a transformational role in the industry and redefining how customers choose to manage their money”
Voice Activated Hotel Rooms
The Marriott recently tested Amazon Alexa-powered devices at its Aloft hotel in Boston, and it was a hit. Each Aloft Voice-Activated Hotel Room is equipped with an iPad running a custom Aloft app giving guests entirely new ways to interact with their room. Guests can use Siri to voice-control lighting and thermostats and create full colour spectrum lighting moods, as well as other features.
Following in their footsteps, the Best Western hotel chain has since incorporated Amazon Dot voice-activated devices into some of its rooms, allowing guests to communicate with the hotel, order room service and report problems. The possibilities for voice-driven apps in the hospitality sector are endless.
- According to the team at Activate, there will be 21.4 million smart speakers in the US by 2020
- According to a report by Technavio via Skyword, the voice recognition market will be a $601 million industry by 2019
- According to a report published by HubSpot, 19% of people use Siri every day and 19% use Amazon’s Alexa AI at least once a month.
- 65% of people who own an Amazon Echo or Google Home can’t imagine to going back to the days before they had a smart speaker. 42% say voice-activated devices have quickly become “essential” to their lives.
Voice-driven apps have grown exponentially over the last couple of years and they are slowly creeping into every facet of our lives. As algorithms improve, we will be able to speak and interact with our smart devices and appliances in much the same way as we would chat with a friend, adding to the seamlessness of device usability.
Eventually, these algorithms will not only be able to understand what we say, but how we say it. By reading tonal inflections, apps could learn to adjust their responses to individual moods and adapt how they interact with us to our personalities.
Just imagine a world where your fridge can sense that you’re feeling sad so it orders you a chocolate cake…!