Why now is the time to learn more about the voice interface

In 2016 the Voice User Interface (VUI) has most definitely landed. Amazon’s Alexa powers ‘Echo’ and ‘Dot’ devices, Apple’s Siri is making it’s way into home via Apple TV and Google is joining the fray with ‘Home’ now on sale (US only for now).  So why is now the time to get excited and is a voice interface really going to take off?  How will we know how to make the most of it and when should companies engage?

With any new technology the biggest hurdle is not usually to build working tech, the challenge lies in educating users how to get the most out of it or to create an interface that is so seamless that users “already know” how it works.  Apple famously cracked the smartphone market with the iOS interface on the iPhone which was certainly not the FIRST smartphone.

With the VUI the bar is lower in my opinion, if you can get the engagement right.  Since early science fiction there has been a glimpse of an ethereal helper.  An all knowing guide that can support your quest through life.  My personal favourite was KITT (Knight Rider) but there have been numerous examples from HAL (2001 a space odyssey) to J.A.R.V.I.S. (Iron Man).  With such widespread, often subliminal, understanding of this concept the potential for this technology to be rapidly adopted is great.  However, all of these examples listed were scripted not coded.  Conversations are ‘easy’ if you know what the other person is going to say.  Designing for voice needs you to understand a world of possible conversational starting points and responses.  So where to begin?

Much like apple pioneered with the app store Amazon has created a platform to create ‘Skills’ much like ‘apps’, however, are built within the Amazon development environment.  This is an open community and Amazon hopes to source the wisdom and creativity of the development community to add the most functionality and delightful experience to their platform.

So the barriers to try this out are relatively low.  We stand by the old army saying that “no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy” meaning that you should try your ideas out quickly as possible as that is the point your plans will invariably change.

Look through your organisations touchpoints, come up with some ideas that solve real problems. As quickly as you can, build a conversational interface to test with real world users, gain feedback around the viability of your solution and constantly look for improvements.  Start with an understanding that your product will never be finished and you’re on the right path to success.

In summary, this is an accessible and addressable interface that most humans will be able to engage with intuitively.  We are at the start of mass adoption and development for this paradigm and we all need to build experience quickly and together by using users as development tools not testing tools.

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