When we think of voice enabled smart devices we immediately think of our phone. Most modern phones have some kind of voice activated assistant that can respond to queries and perform searches. However there is going to be a huge growth in other voice enabled devices in your home. This is a trend I’ve been watching closely as I think it’s about to explode in popularity.
You may have heard of the Amazon Echo or Google home, which launched last year. These are just the first in a long line of voice enabled devices coming to your home. This year, some cable companies launched voice enabled cable boxes which allow you to search for your favorite programs. Many TV manufacturers are also building voice capabilities into their devices. For Christmas this year Google is releasing a small line of new voice capable smart speakers as well.
According to recent estimates from Forrester, a research company based in the US, the number of smart speakers used will hit 244 million by 2022. This doesn’t include other smart enabled devices. Some might consider that a surprising estimate, considering that as of 2016 there were a mere 24 million such devices in the marketplace.
Just think about it for a second. If you have a modern cell phone you probably already use voice capabilities in one form or another. For example you may have asked for directions. You may have asked a simple question like “how is the weather today”? Or you may have asked something more complex like “can you tell me where to find the best deal on my favorite beverage”.
If you use a Google device or an Apple device these results likely come from Google Search. And right now a lot of those results are Google local results. But as things evolve we will see a move from the generic Google search results to more customized results. As voice enabled devices evolve, so will the companies providing the answers you are looking for. We are already seeing that with the Amazon devices.
For example, if you have an Alexa device then you are already aware of Alexa skills. These are fully customized actions that an owner of the Alexa can instruct the device to do. Google is beginning to develop its own “Actions” but right now they are much more limited than Alexa Skills.
Right now Alexa skills seem to be limited to things to help you manage your day for example you can ask Alexa the weather, get news headlines, and play music from specific vendors.
But merchants are getting into skills development. For example you can install a Best Buy skill that allows you to interact with Best Buy. You simply say “Alexa talk to Best Buy” and then you are connected to the Best Buy skill where you can do things like research products, get reviews, and more. Granted the skill set is limited right now but as voice grows so will the ability of the skills.
In the future it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Best Buy skill, for example, allow you to not only research products, but purchase them online. pay for them (through a related, or interconnected skill such as PayPal) and arrange for delivery or pickup, all without having to look at a computer or talk to a person.
Soon other companies will see the value in this and begin developing skills for themselves. For example: I can see a grocery store develop an app or a skill for a voice enabled device which allows its users to call up a shopping list, add an item or the shopping list, and then checkout and pay for the item. They will then be able to arrange for delivery or pickup. All without again looking at a website or talking to a person. doing it all on their own schedule because the device is always listening and always ready to add to their shopping list or allow them to make a purchase.
Of course voice enabled devices are still in their infancy and the ability to manage tasks is still fairly simple, but as more and more people jump on the voice device bandwagon you will see more and more vendors trying to figure out how to take advantage of voice enabled devices.
I expect over the next 3 to 5 years that we will see a tremendous growth in voice enabled devices in the home. You will go from having one device such as a Google home, or Amazon Alexa, sitting on your kitchen counter to having multiple connected devices which work together or individually to connect your entire home to the internet. Much like how people started out with only one television in their home and now most people have two or three or more.
In fact I would bet that someone in your family has a voice enabled device on their Christmas list right now, and if not I’m sure you will be looking at them this Christmas. Wondering what they are and how could you use one?
Before it you begin to wonder how useful a voice enabled device will be consider this: I have just written this entire article using my voice. Using a microphone I am able to record what I want to say and it appears on my screen, thanks to Google Docs. Of course I will go through it afterwards with my keyboard and edit it.
The future of the internet does appear to be tied to voice search, at least for now. Who knows how long the voice revolution will last? That is anyone’s guess. But I believe we have the next 3 to 5 years to figure that out.