Voice is here. And it’s here to stay. Whether as a completely disruptive new platform, or as an augmentation of established channels will be determined in the next three years. 

What’s certain right now is that there are real opportunities for companies, brands and developers across industries to leverage voice. 

This blog explores the current state of the technology, where it’s going, how voice should fit into your digital roadmap as well as an insight into which industries we feel are truly ready for disruption.

Voice Today

Today, nearly one in five US adults have access to a smart speaker according to new research from Voicebot.ai, this works out at an adoption rate of around 20% or 47.3 million US adults.

UK adoption has been even quicker, with 35%-50% of households expected to have an Amazon Echo by 2021.

These are impressive numbers, but perhaps the most revealing statistic is that smart speakers have had a faster adoption rate than the iPhone.

Why Voice?

As a human-computer interface, voice is one of the most disruptive and potentially ubiquitous consumer-facing technologies to emerge since mobile. 

01. Voice is Natural 

At a basic human level voice is the easiest and most intuitive way to communicate – it’s how we’ve been interacting since we were toddlers. 

With the advent of smart speakers backed by assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant, voice has grown quickly in both popularity and utility, thanks in large part to its simplicity. With no visual UI to navigate or keyboards or touchscreens to open and operate, all you need to do is start talking. 

It’s this ‘lean back’ effect that’s proving so popular with consumers and brands alike. Now if you need to set a reminder, get a quick answer to a question, or simply want to relax and be entertained, voice’s ease of use is giving smart speakers a key competitive advantage over the likes of mobile.

02. Voice Works 

Voice technology has been around for decades but took a big leap forward in 2011 when Apple introduced Siri into its smartphones, marking the first mass adoption of voice-based personal assistants.

This represented a breakthrough both in availability and usability of voice, paving the way for Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana.

But Siri and its competitors largely remained secondary to the touchscreen; it was Amazon’s launch of the Echo smart speaker in 2014 that uncovered voice’s true potential. Echo and its voice assistant Alexa coupled advanced far-field microphones with improved accuracy in natural language understanding to create a reliable, usable interface which could consistently respond to our voices and meet our requests. Since opening their platform to third-parties Amazon have seen over 50,000 voice skills released for Alexa from homebrew developers to major global brands.

03. It’s here to stay 

Far from being the latest fad, the current usage, uptake and distribution suggest that voice is here for the long-term and will soon become a ‘standard’ channel to consider for every company or brand. 

Listening to your customers has never been more important.

Brand uptake is growing fast  

The world’s biggest brands are already building voice skills which consumers are adopting into their everyday lives, and increased competition between Amazon and Google is bringing new features and increased integration, driving an almost daily transformation of voice capabilities. 

30% of Google searches on mobile now voice-driven

Source: Google


Voice use cases and their applications

Although voice is still an early stage technology, it has already proven its value by offering real advantages in a range of tasks and user interactions. 

Carrying out routine tasks or chores 

Voice makes putting on the washing machine, turning up the heating, dimming the lights or even booking an appointment seamless. It’s ideal for: 

  • Controlling the smart home 
  • Checking calendars and booking appointments 
  • Controlling tools and machinery such as medical or factory equipment hands-free 
  • Quick retail transactions, such as bank transfers or reordering a pizza

Searching for discrete information in a large databank 

When you need to find something specific but you need that information quickly, voice has a huge advantage over visual navigations. Great if you’re quickly looking for: 

  • An individual transaction on a bank statement 
  • The last train on a Friday night 
  • What time a TV show airs 


Entertaining and engaging  

Voice offers a new way to engage consumers with rich, tailored content and activations including: 

  • Immersive, interactive media experiences like game shows and build-your-own adventure style narratives 
  • Fast and easy access to libraries of rich media content 
  • Offering extensions to existing media, like behind the scenes and cast interviews

Data Capture 

From clinical trials to bespoke surveys, polls and questionnaires, data capture is already being transformed by voice. With voice you can: 

  • Create checklists for shopping, going on holiday, or moving house 
  • Capture and update user data 
  • Automatically write up data reports

Instant, hands-free access to information 

This is one of voice’s biggest advantages, especially if you’re concentrating on other complex tasks; there’s no need to stop to manually search and then look at a screen. It’s perfectly suited for: 

  • Use in home or cars for travel and weather updates 
  • Requesting and following recipes while cooking 
  • Accessing how-tos, like tips on stain removal, household DIY or basic first aid


Eight industries ripe for disruption

With so many opportunities to use voice, you’ll already be thinking of a range of use cases relevant to your industry. Here are eight areas we’ve already seen voice taking root and creating impactful, disruptive experiences.

Media and entertainment 

Skills are being used to help launch movies and TV shows with users being asked to solve mysteries, influence stories, or unlocking bonus or behind the scenes content. Some media companies like the BBC have created complete experiences created specifically for voice, while others like our own Human Test for Channel 4’s Humans tie in to existing or upcoming shows to create excitement and engage core fans.


Smart home 

The Amazon Echo solved one of the biggest problems of the smart home by becoming a single, completely natural interface which could be used by anyone, not just those with the right apps and logins. With deep integrations already announced for televisions and other household appliances like the UK-first Google Home action for Honeywell, and home-builders designing new houses with connected technologies at the forefront, a primarily voice-driven smart home isn’t far away.

Finance 

Using a voice assistant to check your balance or make a payment is straightforward; after all, we’ve been doing this over the phone for years. But how about quickly checking how much you spent in a particular store last month? Or browsing and purchasing insurance quotes? Or the approximate wait time at a particular branch? Voice promises to make these simple yet valuable interactions seamless. New technological advancements like voice biometrics will also address and alleviate security concerns, and encourage users to regard chatting to a voice assistant as trustworthy as talking to their bank teller.

Healthcare

In the US, they already have KidsMD, an Alexa skill that answers worried parents’ queries about their children’s symptoms, and in Boston Children’s Hospital, Alexa is being used to provide basic intelligence on medicine dosage, specific medical protocols and staff contact details. In the future, voice could ultimately be linked to patient data, meaning on-demand and personalised advice and support for both patients and healthcare professionals.


Transport and logistics

The next few years will see most new vehicles equipped with built-in voice assistants, meaning drivers and passengers will benefit from a range of services like live updating journey times, best routes, and pre-ordering coffee from a service station a few miles ahead. Hands-free access also means less distraction for drivers, and with driverless technology on the horizon the car becomes a true hub for purchasing, commerce and entertainment.

Utilities

You can already check balances or submit meter readings for utility companies such as EDF and British Gas. Soon your voice assistant will be able to troubleshoot maintenance issues, monitor and proactively spot problems, notify users about unusual or heavily increased usage patterns and arrange maintenance appointments.


Service Industry/FMCG

Voice is already part of the daily routines of millions of smart speaker owners, making it a prime target for consumer goods brands. This industry is well aware that we’re all creatures of habit; most people have a standard coffee they order every day, or even a favourite takeaway. “Order my Starbucks” is already here, but more complex interactions where your regular and irregular purchase routines are learned and actioned by voice assistants is not far away.


Retail 

Voice is a natural fit for adding items to a shopping list or easily reordering your favourite pizza or detergent for the kitchen. While shopping for more complex or visual products, like electronics or clothes, isn’t currently an optimal experience by voice, upcoming smart screens and tv integrations promise to smooth the purchase process even for these products. Engagement beyond the transaction provides an opportunity too, imagine buying flat-pack furniture then getting step-by-step instructions on how to assemble it. In the future, voice assistants could also provide which aisle a particular item is located in and offer product tips and recommendations.

Summary

It’s still early days for voice, but that’s what’s making this disruptive market so attractive to businesses like yours. While Amazon has the advantage of market share and a much larger ecosystem behind its assistant, Google delivers a better user-experience. It has to be said that thanks to their continued development, the differences between the current leading assistants are narrowing by the day. If you’ve got a particular voice skill in mind, it could come down to a range of considerations including reach, exposure, complexity and action.

Amazon Echo 

  • 62% of the smart speaker market
  • Currently on sale in 89 Countries
  • 10s of millions of devices sold
  • Over 50k 3rd party skills

Google Home 

  • 27% of the smart speaker market
  • Currently on sale in 16 Countries
  • 15 million devices sold

By reading this blog, you’ve seen how voice has become a relevant consumer channel with a substantial, global reach. Hopefully we’ve surprised you with the wealth of use cases and the projected stats for the very near future.

Equally as importantly, you’ll now have a solid background on where voice could fit into your organisation, how to leverage its benefits and how to benchmark success.

Overall, the most successful voice skills offer true strategic integrations, seamless interactions and ultimately, increased and continued engagement.