Understanding where voice assistants have been successful is key to delivering engaging, memorable, and beneficial voice experiences to your users.
Over the past 4 years smart speakers have ingrained themselves into the minds and daily lives of consumers, becoming a household item for many in the US and the UK. As the list of use cases continues to grow, many are looking for where voice interaction can best augment their own industry. While the adoption of smart speakers has fuelled interest from a broad range of industries, understanding where and how it works best are key to delivering impact in your organisation.
A key advantage of voice is you only need to speak to get what you want, no need to pull a phone out of your pocket or touch a screen, it's completely handsfree. This was one of the big draws of the Amazon Echo, and one of the reasons so much of the early advertising around smart speakers focused on the kitchen. Messy hands make following a recipe on a phone or tablet tricky, whereas checking measurements, setting timers, and moving to the next step of a recipe are easy to do by voice. Over time more and more handsfree use cases have emerged, like parents chasing after kids, people relaxing in the bath, driving, and workers operating machinery with their hands.
One of the most common uses of intelligent voice assistants is to search for information; in 2017 Alpine.ai estimated there to be 1 billion voice searches per month, set to rise to drive 50% of all searches by 2020. As asking a question out loud is more natural and frictionless than pulling out a phone, it’s easy to see why voice assistants have quickly become a popular way of searching.
Most searches being done on voice devices are general questions, the sort of questions you would put into Google, like how long to cook an egg for, or what time your local Tesco closes. But the assistants also excel at finding specific pieces of information amid large databanks, like finding flight times, querying an individual transaction in a bank account, or finding out the time a TV show is airing. In these use cases, searching by voice can be faster than on a screen, as it cuts through the navigation, filtering, or categorisations that a typical interface would require.
While these search functions on current assistants are still quite relatively basic, they are becoming better and better at handling more complex tasks and inputs and are moving closer into the realm of anticipatory design. It won’t be long before asking Alexa or the Google Assistant to book a flight will lead it to suggest the best hotels available, expediting search processes even further.
With the launch of Alexa for Business, Amazon has taken the lead in the office setting as the go-to voice assistant, with Google having yet to make any announcements of the like and Cortana still struggling to take off. Our previous article on where we think Alexa will go next tackled this very thought; voice assistants can take a lot of the administrative friction out of everyday office tasks, from simple requests to , multi-stage interactions. We've already seen examples of employees quickly bringing up custom reports during presentations, organising business travel arrangements quickly, or arranging meetings and checking for room availability simply by asking Alexa. No more hunting around for files or checking calendars to see when everyone is next available!
The media industry has naturally been one of the earliest to invest in voice interaction. From the obvious use cases in music, radio, and audiobooks, many are exploiting the assistants' ability to engage a customer in an interactive story, deepening connections with a brand property and its characters.
Destiny 2 extends gameplay beyond the screen
To help promote the video game Destiny 2 following its launch in September 2017, game developers Activision and Bungie revealed a replica of the in-game virtual assistant, Ghost, which integrated with Amazon’s Alexa to bring the game’s world into your living room.
The custom smart speaker could help players with a number of tasks - such as changing the player’s equipment loadout or providing insight on the lore of the in-game world, with the Ghost’s voice provided by actor Nolan North. While the physical Ghost still needed an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot to pair with, the immersive experience was well received, with many contemplating what other titles and genres could benefit from a similar feature.
Channel 4’s Humans enter the real world
In 2018, Channel 4 approached Screenmedia to help them promote season 3 of their hit show Humans using emerging technologies. The solution we developed was a voice experience for both Amazon and Google’s platforms, offering a Turing-style test to fans of the show to determine whether they were indeed a human or a ‘synth’.
The experience allowed users to immerse themselves into the setting of the TV show and received rave reviews from fans and critics alike. With 50,000 users in the first week after the skill’s launch and a 10% retention rate - 4 points higher than average - the Human test quickly became one of the top skills on Amazon’s Alexa store.
Ubisoft’s Spartan replaces Alexa with Alexios
Ahead of the release of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, the latest instalment of Ubisoft’s multi-billion dollar historical role playing franchise, the publishing house revealed The Spartan, a promotional skill which offered not only insight into the Ancient Greek world of the game but also mimicked native Alexa functionality, all in the voice of Alexios, one of the game’s protagonists. Users can not only find out about Mount Olympus or the Athenian Treasury, but can also find out what’s on their shopping list or set alarms, all amusingly delivered in a serious, gravelly tone.
We've had handsfree calling and GPS devices for some time, but the full range of a mobile phones’ features and services are often unavailable while driving to a reliance on the touchscreen. Voice assistants are a perfect fit for the car, enhancing our current applications of hands-free convenience while driving, whether it be for directions, traffic updates, phone calls, or controlling the car’s entertainment system, while adding new ones like general queries, smart home control, and better productivity.
In the near future we’ll also see voice assistants have the ability to control the car’s functions, ranging from air conditioning to turning the engine on to warm it up on cold winter mornings. With automotive manufacturers from the likes of Toyota, BMW, Ford, and Nissan having announced plans to integrate assistants such as Alexa into future models, we won't have to wait long.
One of the first markets voice made an impact in was the smart home; giving users the ability to control aspects of their smart home devices through voice. While this was handy for avid smart home fans, it was a boon for people with physical impairments - not just being able to control their heating or lighting without strenuous movement, but also having access to services and information without having to use a touchscreen or more traditional keyboard and mouse interface.
In early 2018, we covered some of the weird and wonderful showcases at the annual CES show in Las Vegas; one that raised some eyebrows at here at Screenmedia was Kohler’s smart bathroom line which included a smart bathtub and shower. Some saw this as just another gimmick, but a voice enabled bathtub and shower could offer great benefits to physically impaired users who either have difficulty with regular controls or need assistance.
Enterprise businesses have shown keen interest in voice technologies, looking for ways to integrate it with other emerging technologies such as augmented reality (AR).
The second, enterprise-focused iteration of the Google Glass AR headset comes complete with Google Assistant, and is targeted at improving business workflows, like helping worker access to manuals, step-by-step operations, and remote consultation with colleagues without ever having to stop the task at hand, increasing productivity by as much as 20%. The implementation of voice into AR headsets will give workers the added ability to find whatever information they need simply by asking for it and having it be displayed direct into their field of view.
While Google had a head start on combining AR and voice in an enterprise setting, having already developed both technologies, their competitor Vuzix is releasing Alexa-integrated AR glasses, ramping up the race.
The versatility of voice has allowed it to fit perfectly into a variety of environments. Nonetheless there are still tasks not suited to voice as they rely heavily on visual factors, such as shopping fashion online. Understanding the reason behind successful voice applications and adapting them to your business, rather than rushing the release of an experience for the sake of having one, is key to reproducing the same benefit reaped by the current leaders in the voice market today.
So now what?