Where is voice technology headed in 2018? 5 predictions

Today, we are seeing applications of AI everywhere, in almost every industry. Here are five voice technology trends I see playing out in the next few years

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Conversational user interfaces are a focus for many businesses as they are becoming more widely adopted. Colossal brands like Amazon and Google are investing in the technology around voice interfaces, which is fueling the demand. As a result, these interfaces are becoming more advanced every day, as a myriad of industries are recognizing the value of providing users with conversational voice interfaces.

It comes as no surprise that 2017 saw significant growth in artificial intelligence and machine learning for everyday use. Today, we are seeing the use of AI in apps everywhere, in almost every industry. Here’s how I see voice technology playing out in the next few years.

1. More personalized responses with contextual understanding

Contextual understanding in voice assistants has been a main area of focus for many companies, with Google leading the way. Google’s assistant understands the context of followup questions, while most other voice assistants still lag behind. The reality is that most digital assistants on the market do not have the ability to provide contextual responses, but companies such as Google are definitely focused on this. For voice assistants to become a larger part of users’ lives, we need to see advancements in contextual understanding. This means having the ability to understand what the user is saying and sustain a conversation. It means the voice assistant will have the ability to understand the last thing that was said and anticipate the next.

2. Device fragmentation becomes a concern

As voice ecosystems are expanding, developers need to address the issue of device fragmentation between multiple platforms. We are seeing more devices pop up every day, for example, Alexa’s complex ecosystem of the Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Look, Echo Spot, and so on. The reason why Amazon is releasing so many devices is because it is aiming to sustain its market share. It is building products for every use case and catering to all kinds of demographics, for example, a cheaper option for people that cannot afford the original Echo.

As it competes head-on with Google, it wants consumers to view it as the only option for smart speakers. Once consumers are invested in a brand’s ecosystem, they are essentially trapped. The brand can then sell you its services as the user becomes dependent on a particular brand’s compatibility with other products and services.

Developers now need to address the fragmentation issue when they develop for voice. However, it’s also up to companies to understand the capabilities of each device. Does it make sense for your brand in particular? Just because a new device or platform is announced, doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for your brand. Throughout this fragmentation issue, developers need to remain focused on building a seamless and intuitive user experience across a variety of platforms.

3. Users demand convenient and low-effort experiences

As user behaviors are shifting from on-screen interaction to voice interfaces, it’s up to companies to meet these demands by offering more seamless experiences. Millennials in particular are more comfortable with voice as they are demanding digital experiences that are fast, efficient, and convenient.

4. Brands race to adopt a voice strategy

Brands are finding new ways to reduce the number of friction points users are experiencing. With larger product directories and more information, voice technology enables users to use natural language to eliminate or reduce the amount of effort users have to put in to complete a goal, make a purchase, and find information. Every day, users are searching for quicker and more efficient ways of accomplishing their goal and voice is quickly becoming the ideal solution for this. Millions of voice-activated digital assistants have been sold already, which is indicative of where our digital world is headed.

5. A focus on user engagement and retention

Moving away from touch interaction, how will brands adjust their user engagement strategy? How will users be retained with voice? Developers need to build apps with user engagement in mind. It’s now up to Amazon, Google, and other companies to stand out by helping both consumers and developers solve these engagement and retention problems.

Recently, Amazon released an overhaul to its Alexa Skills Kit Developer Console which helps boost user engagement by splitting the Alexa skill development process into different segments: build, test, launch, and measure. Developers can now understand how users will response to the skill before launch.

Why did Amazon launch this overhaul? It is focusing on the user engagement and retention problem for Alexa skills. There’s a discoverability issue with Alexa skills, and once a skill is found, there is very little chance that the user continues to use the voice app. In addition, Amazon also added a notification capability to the Amazon Voice Services API. Although voice notifications are basic, they will evolve to become more interactive in the coming years.

Apple’s Siri introduced us to the voice assistant, which fueled the demand. However, we need to see these assistants offer a lot more value for users before we see more widespread adoption. Voice assistants today are more of a luxury item that are fun to use, but there is no pain point that the voice assistant is truly solving.

Right now, the value that the Echo and other voice assistants provide is hands-free control of the environment around them. All other use cases such as playing music, purchasing items, or calling a taxi are nice-to-haves. Amazon, Google, Apple, and other companies need to start thinking about the value they’re providing so that users can’t live without it. It’s only until then that we will see voice assistants really take off.

Copyright © 2018 IDG Communications, Inc.