microphone with motion behind
PHOTO: Sunyu Kim

People enjoy talking. Look at how much children do it as soon as they are able. As we get older, our enjoyment of talking doesn’t go away. We’ll talk to others, to our pets and even to ourselves. With improvements to machine learning and natural-language understanding (NLU), this has led to a growth in voice-enabled devices and experiences.

Wherever We Go, Voice Follows

“Voice” today is more than just smart assistants on smart speakers. Take a look at the variety of announcements coming from the big companies to see this manifest. Wherever we go as individuals, voice follows.

Cars are a prime example. Apple and Google have long been in cars with Carplay and Android Auto, respectively. Amazon more recently made its own entry and released Echo Auto as a plug-in device, partnering with manufacturers from Audi to Toyota in the process. Finally, manufacturers themselves are creating their own built-in assistants, such as Mercedez-Bens’ MBUX. Considering the amount of time people spend in cars commuting or running errands, that’s many hours where the only responsible way to interact with information is through voice.

When we look at other forms of travel, voice is there as well. The desire to keep our phones in our pockets has led to a new class of devices called “hearables.” Airpods are now a $6 billion business for Apple, and Google, Amazon and Samsung each have their own wireless earbuds. On people’s wrists are Apple and Samsung, plus Google-backed WearOS. And while Amazon doesn’t have smart watches, it does have smart rings and glasses. All of this shows the major platforms vying to be within speaking distance, even when people are on the move.

Then, when people get back home, voice is waiting there, too. However, it’s not just waiting through smart speakers. Televisions, set-top boxes and media players, like the Fire TV and Roku, increasingly offer voice controls. Even YouTube allows you to use your phone as a voice remote. This all comes as people get exasperated by searching character-by-painfully-slow-character via remote. Samsung is another name to remember in this category. While its Bixby isn’t taking off like the company probably hoped, Samsung is also a leading company for home appliances and has already started bundling its assistant in refrigerators.

Finally, while the focus on smart assistants is insightful, it's also interesting to see how voice more generally is present on mobile. Companies like Spotify and Pandora have built voice commands into their mobile apps, while those outside of media add voice to their search bars. This is no surprise, because as people become more comfortable speaking to devices, they will expect to speak everywhere. This is doubly true in places where input is difficult, like on mobile displays and the aforementioned televisions.

Related Article: The Future Is Multi-Modal: Why Voice Alone Will Never Be the Answer

Voice Is a Platform and a Mode

This explosion shows that voice is both a platform and a mode. If you think of voice strategy and only think of building skills and actions, you are missing all of the other platforms that people will want to use voice on. If you’re thinking about voice as something that people only use at home, you’re missing the opportunity to connect with them whenever and wherever they think about your company or vertical. 

Instead, if you think of voice as a mode of interaction, you can start to see all of the places people might want to interact through voice and start to consider how your company can meet them there. You’re showing as a company that you want to be there for your customers, and giving them a way to interact with you in whatever way is most convenient at that time is a great way to do so. That is the promise of voice for brands.

Related Article: Getting Started With Voice User Interface Design