Even as a self-confessed Voice First evangelist I must admit to having occasional moments of doubt.
Just like everyone else, I have directed words to my Amazon Alexa in frustration that she really she shouldn’t have to hear. Angered by the devices inability to follow my commands. I’ve also felt that awkward self-consciousness when talking to my personal assistant… even when alone in a room.
There is no doubt that these are stumbling blocks that Voice must skip over in order to fulfil what many believe to be its full potential… but maybe the journey to overcome those issues is already well underway.
This weekend I witnessed a friends child performing a search on their parent’s phone and it made me realise that the future of voice will be decided by the generation that will benefit most from its growth.
The child in question was 7 years old who wanted to find out more information on Ladybirds (and why not). They were handed the phone to search for what they wanted to know but instead of clicking Google, as I would have done, they activated Siri to conduct their search. The returned results were the same as I would have received; a hot list of articles using Googles SEO search functions (another current pitfall of the medium) but the method of getting there was totally different. For once, “Voice First” ACTUALLY became; voice, first.
It was a moment of revelation for me. Voice will be the default way to find information for a future generation because it will be what they’ve been conditioned to use.
Yes, you could argue that the younger users of the IOF are turning to voice out of ease. The ability to use a keyboard and spell a word is a far more complex interaction than simply “asking” for something but, by being comfortable and interacting with Alexa, Hey Google, Siri or whatever voice interface they choose, the next generation of tech users are being trained to turn to voice as default. Just as the generation before were trained to use Facebook or the generation before that were trained to use email.
I’ve been witnessing this activity at home for months now. My 6-year-old son is so accustomed to using voice to find the content than he wants that he will frequently bark “Alexa, play Shotgun” at the non-voice enable car radio when he wants to hear his favourite song. For him, its already become an assumption that technology is “Voice-Enabled”.
I’m not breaking any new ground here. Amazon themselves have been early to engage with the younger users would provide them with a future client-based. From early on they have encouraged their hobbyist developers to work on Skills and Games that engage with this audience. Partly to turn Alexa into a “hub” for the family and partly to help integrate this new technology into day to day life from an early age. It’s a smart tactic.
Recently, I have been working on a Voice Skill project where, during our user testing of Skill functionality, we noted that many skill users are not only occasionally uncomfortable with the way they interact with voice but also uncertain with how to do it. Things that should come naturally such as the questions to ask or the language to use require such a level of thought that the effort involved becomes prohibitive.
Yes, voice is far simpler than most technology. This is part of its mass appeal. But, like with any new innovation users must learn how best to use and interact with it in order to return the desired results.
It’s easy to be impatient with technology. We are hardwired to want the future now. In voice, we have a technological advancement that requires a complete re-think in the way we search for information and discover content, and that takes time.
The majority of the population are yet to interact with “Voice First” technology in any way and the leap from ‘new’ to ‘established’ communication method isn’t going to happen overnight. Once the tech matures and completing these functions with voice rather than screen becomes a natural option for its user the adoption rates will the fast and wide-spread. On one side there is a need to educate the people currently buying and using Alexa and co but on the other side, for the youth of today, the training is well underway.
I’m not saying we will have to wait a decade for Voice tech to truly catch on but imagine that when, in 10-15 years, an army of Generation Alpha’s enter the workforce. They will have grown up with voice being the first and most comfortable way to communicate with technology. Using this interface that currently feels awkward and clunky will be second nature to these users and voice will flourish. This means there will be a massive expectation for content providers, brands and companies to be ready to provide that service and they (you) need to be ready.
Kids are 100% the future of voice… and the future is closer than you think.