Is voice the future of search?



The use of voice to operate mobile devices has been creeping up on us slowly over the past few years, and it’s now set to explode. It won’t be long until voice becomes the norm. However, many of us are yet to be converted. It’s a big leap from typing a search request into Google,or tapping a contact fromyourphone book, to speaking out loud and expecting an inanimate object to respond.

Siri, the ‘intelligent digital assistant’, has been available to iPhone, iPad and iPod users for some time. It first appeared on the iPhone 4S with great fanfare. Siri is designed to act like a real, human assistant, holding conversations and responding intelligently. Siri has a memory, too – she will learn your favourite searches and preferences, and will even tell jokes.

However, some new contenders are in town: Microsoft’s Cortana, Google Now and Amazon Alexa. We discuss these later on.

Why was voice technology developed?

It’s easy to assume that Apple’s boffins invented voice just to show off. However, there’s a serious reason why many people might rely on it to carry out searches on their mobile devices – poor literacy or poor vision. If people find spelling and indeed reading difficult, voice is a godsend. Not only can you speak your instructions out loud, the digital assistant will answer you, too. Voice is also ideal for anybody who may find typing difficult such as those with disabilities or the elderly.

What can you do with voice?

You name it. You can carry out searches, send text messages, make phone calls, find out the weather forecast, search for and listen to music or books, and so on. But that’s not all. Voice can be used to carry out tasks around your house using smart devices such as lighting, heating or even appliances (see Alexa, below).

Voice technology is becoming ever more sophisticated. New developments include a greater understanding of different dialects or accents, the ability for your digital assistant to ask follow up questions to clarify your request, and also a recognition of different users just by their voice.

Who are the major players right now?

We’ve already mentioned Apple’s Siri. Here are the other key players right now:

Alexa from Amazon: this is innovative because it doesn’t rely on use of a screen (eg a phone or tablet). You use Alexa with the Amazon Echo device not only to carry out searches but also to operate smart devices in your home, and even interface with services such as Uber taxis or Domino’s. Go to your app store to find out more or take a look at the Echo.

Google Now Assistant: this intelligent assistant is slightly different in that it’s more data driven than the others, using both voice and other features. Find out more here.

Cortana from Microsoft: you will find Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant, on any device that runs Windows 10 such as your PCor the Xbox One.

What does the future hold?

With voice, you could argue that the sky’s the limit. The market is wide open not only for big companies like Apple and Google, but also for new start ups and inventors to come up with exciting new ideas.

We believe that voice will come into its own very soon, and quickly. Who knows, one day in the distant future it may become so common to use voice that we will forget how to type!

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