From ‘simple skills’ to ‘seamless interaction’

Predictions for 2017
Voice is the next big step in computing, after the transition from desktop to smartphone. Developments in machine learning and natural-language processing have driven the rapid growth of voice search and smart speakers, promising dramatic changes in the way we search, shop and interact with companies. The interface is simple and delivers a single, best answer, instead of the slew of search results we are accustomed to onscreen. These devices also play music, set timers, control other devices about the home, and place shopping orders.

What happened in 2017?
Thanks to a sharp fall in prices, smart speakers have become true mass-market devices, with 33.2 million shipped over the past 12 months according to Canalys. Smart speakers are becoming the central control hubs for the smart home. Using them quickly becomes a habit – they are not a short-lived fad. Voice shopping is picking up quickly. Amazon’s Alexa adds items to a shopping basket and completes the purchase using just voice commands, and even offered exclusive deals on Black Friday. Still, brands have had trouble redefining themselves for this new reality, after spending years perfecting the arts of designing, packaging and marketing their products visually.

What’s next?
According to Gartner, voice search will be the fastestgrowing mobile search channel in 2018, and comScore predicts 50% of all searches will be made by voice in 2020. Google’s aim is to improve its ‘Answer Box’ to provide the most accurate and best content. The same principle works for Google Home and Alexa, which are focusing on the best products and services to ensure good experiences for consumers. We’ll see intelligent services learn not just to talk to us but to learn to recognise emotion, engage and have meaningful conversations.

The big tech companies – Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple – are fighting to deepen consumer engagement by embedding their assistant platforms across all consumer electronics. Other companies recognise the need to improve time to market through collaboration, partnerships and open platforms. For example, numerous car manufacturers are integrating voice assistants into their 2018 and 2019 models, and Samsung is bringing its voice assistant Bixby to its smart TV sets and Family Hub fridges.

By the end of 2018, voice will have changed the way devices and applications are designed, and will be on the way to becoming the primary interface by which we engage with technology and the world around us.

What does this mean for marketers?

As consumers become accustomed to digital assistants, they will start to expect more from them. They’ll seek out virtual personalities that have the power to entertain, educate, befriend and heal. For smart brands, it’s time to start thinking beyond virtual assistance – and about true virtual companionship.

In the immediate future, device manufacturers are banking on voice-enabled devices to usher in a new era of smart homes controlled by the gadgets they sell. The winning virtual assistant will be the one that first achieves ubiquity. It’s about doing everything, and being everywhere.

Big leaps in voice interaction require large volumes of data for machine learning to crunch. Marketers will need to have a comprehensive data strategy in place to improve the value of their services.

As shopping powered by voice technology gains traction, marketers will rethink their business models. Modern voice systems are built around conversations, through intelligent multi-stage conversational interfaces, so brands will have to make shopping for their products and services an intuitive experience. Brands should also look out for new opportunities as the likes of Amazon and Google seek to monetise their smart speakers, by ads or other commercial partnerships.

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