2017 was a massive year for Smart Speakers. Technology improved, adoption grew and the idea of a personal “voice assistant” living in a device somewhere in your house suddenly didn’t seem like such a strange concept. All the signs are that the growth and improvement show in the last year will continue over the next 12 months. Here are some KEY predictions that we can see happening in 2018.
Your Mum Will Buy A Smart Speaker.
That’s if she doesn’t have one already. What was once a device owned by gadget lovers is starting to become the norm. The acceptance of these new devices is rapid. Having appeared no the commercial market only 2 years ago (in the US and UK) some predictions are putting post-Christmas ownership at around 15% of the population state-side with that number expected to rise to 55% by 2022. These products are no longer just for those who like to be first, queueing outside the Apple Store for the latest iPhone, Smart Speakers are now for the masses and whilst, for now, activating your bedroom lights or ordering a Pizza via voice may still feel like a gimmick this year it will become “The New Normal”.
Smart Speakers Will “Talk Smarter”.
One of the big challenges facing any Smart Speaker developer is making any interaction “feel human”. Particularly with Amazon’s Alexa interface, invoking actions can feel a little “clunky” with more complex or subtle commands often resulting in confusion (and frustration). Artificial Intelligence has taken some massive steps in 2017 and this year we will start to see the fruits of that labour impact Voice First. Smart Speakers are already developing a better understanding of users needs and requests and there will be continued improvement. Natural language processing, such as allowing users to jump between skills/topics, turn-taking and context will all be important areas for improvement if we are to reduce the friction in communication between human and device.
More High-Quality Content Will Emerge.
The stats above prove that Smart Speakers are no longer a fad and 2018 will be the year that brands sit up and take notice. Some companies such as Uber and Domino’s Pizza have already taken the plunge into the Smart Speaker market and other big brands will follow suit or face missing out. ‘Voice’ allows customers to connect directly to brands and products and as the market grows so will consumer preference. Users will grow to expect their favourite brand to have a Smart Speaker presence and so those brands must deliver. As more people realise the convenience of voice to perform searches the importance of having a presence on these platforms, and a decent voice-search ranking, will become vital and a key part of the forward-thinking companies digital marketing plan.
Independent developers will also begin to create higher quality Apps, Skills and Actions as Amazon relax their rules on content commercialisation. In 2017 we saw changes that enabled developers to include some advertising into their products and to offer subscription/freemium content which means, for the first time, individuals making such content can use it to generate revenue. This has to lead to improved quality in this area.
Discovery Will Change.
Finding content on Smart Speakers can be, to be blunt, a pain in the neck. Discovery currently is based on reviews and ratings relying very much on pure chance to find good, usable content. Currently, Google lead the race here, their years of search engine experience allowing users to find the content they desire in a much simpler way. This year could see content discovery become much simpler. I think that Amazon will move away from using the “Alexa Phone App” as a way to seek out new content with the intuitive enabling of Skills via voice, leading the way. Tell Alexa you’re hungry and she’ll open the Domino’s pizza delivery skill, tell Alexa you need a holiday and she will take you to Secret Escape’s voice first offering. Returned results will be based on preferences and past usage creating a truly bespoke experience for the user.
Voice Assistants Will Be EVERYWHERE.
2018 could be the year that Voice Assistance breaks out of the home hub. Currently, they live in tubes, domes and boxes positioned carefully around the home but this year they will escape into the wild! Already home appliance giants LG and car manufacturer Seat have integrated Alexa into some of their products and with the emergence of Samsung’s Bixby in the first quarter of this year (you can read more about that here) a whole world of Smart-Enabled devices is emerging. User recognition will be a big player this year with the potential for a personalised assistant to “follow” a user from home to car to the workplace, providing seamless access to a voice-first world at every turn. This could also lead to a cross-pollination of assistant on different hardware. No longer will one device be intrinsically linked to a single platform. Apple users will be able to talk to Alexa if that is there preference, Amazon users may prefer Bixby as their assistance of choice. This means the content available will become more important than the devices themselves.