A couple days ago Google published the 2017 summary of their voice-first solutions: Google Home (hardware) and Google Assistant (software). And it seems that the new way of how we interact with the technology knocks on our door. With “Google Home usage increased 9X this holiday season over last year’s”, and one Google Home Mini sold in each second since its premiere, it’s become clear that voice interfaces are slowly going out of an early adoption stage and they’ve begun to settle for good in our homes and minds.
But what is so revolutionary in VUIs and what are the real benefits of having voice-controlled devices around?
First, they make our home smart(er). For the first time, you can talk directly to it and it will understand you – your intentions (“Play music for dinner”) or your questions (“What’s the weather today?”).
You can say hey, my home was smart before – I have a smart thermostat, smart bulbs, smart tv.
Sure, there are countless smart devices around us. But is having them collected in one place make this place smart? I’d say no. Your home is still “dumb”.
We didn't get an electric home – we got electric things in our home. I suspect 'smart home' is the same – we get smart things, over time, not some unified system.
— Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans) January 4, 2018
You can control your lights in many more different ways, but you still need “smart” switch or mobile device with the dedicated app. Your smart TV is better – it’s pretty likely that it has internet access and can be controlled with your voice. But first, you need to turn it on and put the remote control close to your mouth.
Wait… where is my remote? Have you seen it?
How will this situation be different with smart speakers? Having a couple Google Homes or Amazon Echoes located here and there (ideally one per room, and for me it’s enough to have the one in the living room and the one in the bedroom) your place will have the ability to listen to you. No matter if you sit next to your working desk, eat a dinner or stay in bed. You can say out loud what you want and assuming that it’s achievable by your home’s intelligence, it’ll be done.
“Turn off lights in bedroom”,
“Play music for cosy evening”,
“Wake me up in 30minutes”,
“Ask Uber to request a ride”,
“Play the Avengers on TV”.
Your home is listening and ready to fulfill your wishes. And this isn’t your job anymore to locate the mobile device, find the app and then go through designed user journey. Now you just need to ask your home, in a way you want, and wait for results.
The second – your mobile device. Even without voice control, it is smart for sure. With countless available apps and internet access, you can do literally everything. From ordering a food, requesting a taxi, sending money to creating notes, watching videos and many, many more.
But VUI enables the completely new way of using our smartphones. Do all apps require your full attention, your eyes contact or touch? Not really. Now you can ask Siri to create a shopping list (“Hey Siri, add apples into my shopping list”) or Google Assistant to create a note to self (“Ok Google, create a note in google keep”, “…this is note to myself…”).
And if you have earbuds connected to your device (it works even without them!) you can ask “Ok Google, help me speak Japanese”. Your device will become the real-time two-way translator 🇬🇧 🔁 🇯🇵.
Now your speech can be translated in real-time thanks to @ActionsOnGoogle and #GoogleTranslate! Even without #PixelBuds. Just ask "Ok Google, help me speak Japanese". #AI #VUI #GoogleAssistant 🤖🔊🇬🇧🇫🇷🇯🇵🇪🇸🇮🇹🇨🇳 pic.twitter.com/E6jqKmA4An
— Mirek Stanek 🤖📱 (@froger_mcs) November 15, 2017
You can call your loved one while driving, directly from your connected bluetooth headset (“Ok Google, call my husband”). And when it comes to your car…
It doesn’t matter how old it is. It can now be connected to the cloud through your mobile device. With Android Auto app and VUI you can ask to “take me home”.
And you won’t be able to read incoming message from Hangouts of Facebook Messenger…
Instead, it can be read out loud:
Device: “Your wife said: `I’m waiting for you`. Do you want to reply?”
Device: “What’s your message?”
You: “I’m coming”
Device: “Here’s your message: `I’m coming`”. Do you want to send it or change it?”
You: “Send it”
Device: “Sending message…”
And before you arrive home, you can stop shopping. Is it late already? Ask “What are opening hours for the closest grocery”. You’ll see the map with all needed information.
(Voice) assistants intelligence
With the state of the art of voice-to-text solutions, natural language understanding and text translation, voice interfaces finally have become reliable enough to make use of them in every-day life. But we’re still at the beginning. Even with really good voice-information processing, there are a lot of limitations. Platforms like Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Microsoft Cortana or Apple Siri are here but without our help, it could take ages to make them smart.
So if you’re a software developer, 2018 can be a good time to start adding a piece of “intelligence” to those systems. If you want to build your first app for Google Assistant there are a lot of great tutorials about how to start with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. And I can recommend my still-in-progress series about building Your first Google Assistant skill.
And if you are brave enough you can build your own voice-compatible chatbot system (see the great vision of how The Future of Digital Banking can look like with conversational UI).
Also as the end-user, you can provide meaningful feedback and shape the future of VUIs. Even if you don’t provide it directly, your way of asking the question can be useful for voice user-interface designers to add another scenario to their bots.
And what can the better way to adopting new technology than just using it? Personally, I’m VUIs user for more than a year now. And even if it’s not always reliable, it is a great experience!
If you’re interested in how Google Assistant accompanies me in my life, take a look at one of my previous blog posts: Google Home at home 🏠.
I can’t wait to see your thoughts about past experiences and future use cases of VUIs. For sure this will be a huge step toward the AI-first world.
Thanks for reading!