Names like Siri, Cortana, or Alexa are familiar to us now, but you probably weren’t aware that their family lineage dates all the way back to the 1950s. The “grandmother” of all the virtual assistants we know and love today was AUDREY, a fully analogic speech recognizer developed by Bell Laboratories capable of identifying spoken strings of digits. While that probably seemed pretty incredible for 1952, AUDREY’s impact was dampened by the facts that it stood over six feet tall, consumed enormous amount of power, and was prohibitively expensive — so, not exactly something you could have carried around in your pocket.
Thankfully, technology has taken leaps and bounds forward, and our virtual assistants are capable of a whole lot more than just getting numbers right. In fact, voice activation in general is already transforming how we interact with the technology around us. Voice User Interface — or VUI — is improving every day, and for many of us it’s already becoming difficult to remember a time before we could simply ask our phone to tell us the weather, add an appointment to our calendar, or play our favourite songs. With smart speakers like Amazon Echo or Google Home, these capabilities are no longer confined to our smartphones, either, and that’s a trend that is set to explode as VUI technology is added to diverse aspects of our lives. Amazon, for example, is teaming up with major automakers Ford, Hyundai, and Volkswagen to integrate Alexa with their vehicles, and LG is even releasing refrigerators with voice recognition capabilities.
The benefits to VUI are fairly obvious: voice activation allows us to operate hands-free, adding a layer of convenience to everyday tasks. It also helps to cut through the clutter of a Graphic User Interface — that is, an interface with windows, menus, and icons, such as your typical computer display — by reducing the number of things jostling for our attention on screen. We only have to ask, and our devices will bring up the app or information we need. This convenience has not gone unnoticed by consumers: research states that within 3 years 40% of consumers will likely use voice assistants instead of websites, which almost doubles the 24% currently doing so, and 31% will use a voice device instead of visiting a brick and mortar store (compared to 20% today).
The future of VUI, especially on mobile devices, is bright. Check out, for example, Google’s Voice Access app, which is nearing the end of its testing phase. Voice Access will allow a user to operate their mobile device entirely by speech — and while it’s meant for users who may have mobility issues, the implications for any user are staggering: all of a sudden, the already-impressive functionality of mobile devices is set to skyrocket.
If you’re in the app-developing game, now is the time to consider exploring voice activation for your own apps. The benefit to developing voice activation for your apps now is twofold: first, you put your apps on the cutting edge of technology, allowing your app to stand out among its peers. Second, as VUI becomes increasingly commonplace, you have the advantage of an existing base from which to continue developing your app’s voice activation features.
Consider seeking out developers who are passionate about innovation and who want to break new ground in this field. The best of these will have informative blogs to help you learn about app development services that will allow you to harness VUI. Toronto’s Guaraná Technologies, for example, has made a name for themselves in recent years by incorporating emerging technologies to set their apps apart. The approach has been a success for Guaraná, and they recently had the honour of being named a Top Application Development Agency in Canada for 2018 by both Clutch.co and CrowdReviews.
Research from the Nielsen Norman Group has shown that apps or devices that can employ voice input in a prominent role may very well be the ideal to aim for — and while that may be a difficult undertaking for the uninitiated, a mobile app developer with expertise and a guiding hand will go a long way to proving your app a success.
If staying on the cutting edge were as easy as saying, “Siri, make my app a technological marvel,” everyone would be introducing the latest, greatest VUI. As it stands, however, finding your way to the top of the technological dogpile isn’t quite so simple. Start talking about voice activation as soon as possible — that way you can be the name on everybody’s lips and not just yesterday’s news.