The advent of voice search is changing the way we interact with technology and with our ‘collective consciousness’ itself. We have taken a vital step toward marrying biology (our voice) with technology. We will soon live in an age where the simple and normal routine of contemporary life — typing — will be as obsolete, archaic and even as peculiar as we find a landline telephone today. Voice search will take over and soon even screens may become redundant.
Why is voice search so important, and what makes it better than typing our queries into a search bar? After all, the art of fingertips dancing along a keyboard has served us (and this copywriter, if I may) rather well up until now. We took a look at what this technology means for the future of human communication.
Simply put: voice search allows users to search by verbally asking a question in a natural language on a smartphone, smart device or computer rather than typing the query into a search bar. The query is then ‘answered’ by a search engine or digital assistant. This is achieved using some of the most advanced tricks in AI’s kitbag, including natural language processing, machine learning and voice recognition. Although using this technology seems new and cutting edge, it has actually been around for a while (speed-to-text and voice dialling) and is only now being harnessed by mainstream companies making it mainstream for users. Most of us already use voice search on a daily basis through popular devices such as Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana and Apple’s Siri.
Voice search is growing in popularity at a rapid rate: the global market for voice search devices grew 187% in Q2 in 2018 according to canalys, and it is projected that by 2020 between 30%-50% of all searches will be achieved using voice interface technology. OC&C Strategy Consultants reported that voice shopping will jump from today’s $2 billion to $40 billion by 2022 as the technology improves.
Due to this, major search engines like Google are placing much emphasis on voice optimisation. After all, the purpose of SEO is to make things easier for users by showing the most relevant results to their queries. And thus voice search dramatically improves user experience. According to Forbes, over 1 billion voice searches were recorded in January 2018 — and this number has been on the steady rise ever since.
Voice recognition technology is becoming increasingly more accurate and versatile. Users are developing along with the tech and are realising the benefits of using voice commands for search. According to Google research, this ‘linked development’ is changing consumer behaviour, resulting in a vastly superior user experience. The research showed that the reasons users use their voice-activated speakers are because:
The benefits of voice search are pretty obvious in how they can improve the lives of users. Hands-free access to instant information is a powerful thing, and we can think of innumerable instances where this is beneficial. But simply put: everyone can ask a question out loud faster than they can type it, especially when using a mobile device. It’s becoming a valuable tool to simplify the search process and quickly get answers without interrupting our other daily tasks, freeing up time to allow us to be more efficient. And efficiency is key in today’s world.
Even though there are many benefits there are still significant downsides. Voice recognition software doesn’t always interpret what you’re saying accurately especially in the case where individuals have a thicker accent than the middle of the road accent the assistant was ‘trained’ on and as such frustratingly either supplies the incorrect response or asks you to repeat yourself ad nauseam. Your VA is set-up to learn your specific speech patterns but there are still various incidents when meaning is ‘lost in translation’ so to speak. Another very practical limitation comes in the form of a steady internet connection. As we move into the 5G era this will likely be less of a concern but for the moment an intermittent connection means an intermittent assistant. Finally, voice recognition software is sensitive to all noise and this background interference from music to actors on a TV series interferes with its ability to listen and respond accurately.
Soon more and more applications for voice commands will be prevalent, including voice-prompted appliances, cars and general day-to-day products like light fixtures and even cameras. Voice will become pervasive.
Home-based virtual assistants will soon be able to know when you are in the kitchen cooking and suggest replacing finished or expired grocery products and appliances. Based on your purchase and browsing history these devices will gain a closer profile of your purchasing habits and will be able to provide detailed personalised purchasing suggestions and exposure to specials and deals.
In our next article, we will explore how businesses can optimise their marketing for voice search technology. Stay tuned — or should we say, listen up!
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