According to the 1,620,000,000 search results it now delivers on Google, Voice Search is here to stay. For the last few years, Voice Search has been significantly increasing in both quality and adoption, but the question still remains: is it really the next big thing?
A brief history of voice tech
Voice Search and voice recognition systems have been around since Bell Labs’ 1952 launch of “Audrey”, which could recognise the spoken sounds of the numbers zero to nine. 10 years, later IBM released the “Shoebox” machine, which was designed to understand up to 16 English words.
In 2002, Microsoft began integrating voice capabilities in its devices, whereas Google only started in 2011. In 2012 Google released Google Now (not that anyone really used it), which was able to perform a variety of voice-activated tasks such as scheduling events, alarms and more.
Then in 2016, Google released Google Assistant (which powers Google Home for both iOS and Android devices. Until that point, Bing had been the most-used voice assistant on Apple devices, but in 2017, Google became the biggest player.
We’ve come a long way, haven’t we? Since it first reached the public in the early 2000s, Voice Search has drastically changed the way users conduct searches. You can find Voice Search not just in your smartphones, tablets or desktop devices, but in almost every electronic device you interact with.
Are consumers and brands actually using Voice Search?
Today, Voice Search almost seems like old news. It has evolved and is, it seems, taking over the world. Estimates show that around half a million Australian households currently own a smart speaker (mainly Google Home devices) – a number forecasted to grow to 3 million by 2022.
There are voice-controlled TV remotes from the likes of Roku and Comcast, and voice-controlled digital personal assistants in cars (e.g. Cortana in Nissan Vehicles, not to mention Android Auto). There are even voice-controlled hotel rooms, courtesy of an experiment conducted by Siri and Aloft hotels called Project: Jetson.
But despite how ubiquitous it has become, do we think it has lived up to the hype of being the next big thing?
Well, if big brands are anything to go by, the answer is yes.
Expedia has been developing its Voice Search capability through integrations with the likes of Alexa and Google. Through these integrations, customers are able to book and search for flights verbally. In a recent article in Skift, Expedia’s Chief Technology Officer said, “without a doubt, voice is our future”.
In January 2019, Google itself released new voice features like the ability to check into flights and manage hotel, publicising the news on their blog.
What can brands learn from Voice Search?
As voice-enabled tech becomes more user-friendly, will everyone start using it to re-stock their pantry or book a hotel?
Yes and no. Like any other type of search query, context and intent are key.
Statistics show that voice search is indeed changing our online behaviour, but it’s situational. These searches aren’t the same as text searches. The average person is able to type between 38-40 words per minute but can speak 110-150 words per minute. That means it’s 3.74x faster to talk than to type.
So with Voice Search, queries are generally going to be longer and more conversational, with a greater likelihood of phrase-based questions, indicating high intent. More than 50% of people using Voice Search at home also say they use it when their hands and vision are occupied doing something else.
Tech giants like Google, Bing, Apple, Facebook are investing more and more into their smartphone, smart homes and apps to own the $49 billion voice market. In the US alone, the number of voice speakers rose by 78% between 2017 and 2018, and we can definitely expect a similar trend in Australia.
However, researchers who developed an IQ test to test artificial intelligence within Siri, Google Assistant and Bing showed that although Google considerably outsmarted Siri and Bing, its IQ was less than that of a 6-year-old.
Voice Search is absolutely here to stay, but for brands to take advantage of it, context will be the most important component. To succeed, brands will need to understand the user’s intent in each moment, and they’ll need to provide the functionality that the user will be expecting.
For most brands, incorporating this kind of capability might still be a few years down the track, but the possibilities are hard to ignore – and they’re only going to improve.