It’s predicted that 50% of searches will be voice activated by 2020 (Comscore). I’m slightly pessimistic we will reach this level of adoption; however, I think 2019 will see the foundations laid for people to drastically begin changing how they search for information.
For me, the primary resistance to mass adoption has been the requirement to talk to a fixed speaker. A speaker that exists 87% of the time in the living room or kitchen according to Tech Crunch.
Consumers’ use of voice activation
It is critical we ask ourselves this: how are we going to bring about behaviour change where people are comfortable using voice throughout their day-to-day to seek information and assist their lives?
Take Google and Amazon – the two big players. They’ve chosen considerably different routes. Google began rolling out voice-enabled functionality within their software with most Android phones now coming pre-installed with the Google Assistant. Recently, an iOS companion app also launched.
The whole smartphone market now has access to the Google Assistant - enabling 83% of the UK population access to voice search (Feb 2018 smartphone penetration figures). Google is also rolling their Assistant out to the Chrome browser - putting it in the hands of 47% of web users (Statista).
While Google leveraged their strength in software, Amazon led the way in negotiating commercial deals with hardware providers. To date, Amazon has partnerships with multiple car manufacturers to have Alexa installed within the vehicle’s software. Similar deals have been negotiated with Sony and LG and the launch of Alexa Smart Plugs provided a cost-efficient way to place Alexa outside of the kitchen or living room.
The rise of the voice assistants
So, a key trend for 2019 is that we will become more comfortable using Voice as the technology begins to flex, becoming more agile. Voice will become part of our everyday life regardless of whether we are on our laptop, commuting to/from work, doing the shopping or even exercising.
As voice-enabled AI Assistants become more accessible, I expect the next major trend to evolve: personalised assistants.
Assistants will begin recognising who is asking questions – and vary responses accordingly. Google may have an advantage here, particularly when using the Assistant app, as the communication is on a 1:1 level as opposed to one-to-many when using a shared speaker. That said, I expect Amazon to launch their Speaker ID capabilities in the UK in 2019 where Alexa can distinguish different voices.
Questions such as “what films are showing at the cinemas?” could have different answers depending on who asks the question.
Not only could responses vary, so could the voices answering the questions. At Wavemaker, we developed our own voice research product, WM Voicemaker. Partnering with neuroscientists, we assess emotional responses to different voices based on pre-defined attributes.
Our research indicates significant variations in subconscious responses between males and females depending on the gender of custom voices used.
Despite this, we are currently limited to using a single voice when creating Skills / Actions. In 2019, I expect to be able to alter the voice depending on the speaker asking the questions. Being able to respond to questions using different genders, tones, accents, and language will build comfort levels with voice and encourage repeat usage to start making voice search/controls habitual.
Use of voice ‘beyond advertising’
2019 will also be the year voice software begins to really understand our preferences. If I ask the Google Assistant “where can I go for dinner tonight?”, the Assistant shows me restaurants around my house and follows up with a ‘card’ asking if I want the closest restaurant. The Assistant is trying to configure my priority list when selecting a restaurant – is proximity, cuisine or cost most important when providing me with answers?
The final trend for 2019 is how we embrace our findings from ‘voice’ and apply them beyond advertising.
WM Voicemaker, for instance, helps influence the voice of skills and actions – meaning that the potential is far broader. From telesales to national help hotlines, we have an opportunity to assign callers to operators with voices they are more likely to resonate with. For clients who use telesales as a sales channel, this could lead to huge uplifts in conversion rates.
2019 will see the foundations laid for voice search to become part of our everyday life. The accessibility of AI assistants and the ability for them to learn our preferences and customise advice will raise our comfort levels of using voice as a way to seek information and assist our lives.
Ben McInerney, head of innovation, Wavemaker UK