Voice recognition is still very much a novelty for all of us. Chances are, you’ve probably got a smartphone or smartwatch you can talk to, to help you along in day to day life. Who actually uses this feature, though?
Voice recognition certainly isn’t a new concept, it’s been around for a long time. Did you know the first ever voice recognition system, named “Audrey”, was designed by Bell Laboratories in 1952. This could only recognize digits spoken by a single voice, we’ve definitely come a long way since then!
Nowadays, voice recognition is used in a number of ways. Whether you’re asking your phone to call someone, Googling something, or trying to get a parcel delivered. Take a look at one of my favourite clips from Miranda demonstrating just that.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98SFgAp4ucg
Sound familiar? I’m sure we’ve all encountered a hiccup or two when using voice search. However, in the last two years, the speech recognition word error rate has decreased from over 20% to 8%. That’s a lot of improvement in a short space of time!
As voice recognition gets better and more reliable, it’s going to impact the way we engage with the internet. It’s also going to have a huge impact on the future of search.
Here at Base Creative, the team are currently all iPhone users, so have access to Siri (don’t worry, we have a device lab for every other smartphone possibility). I asked everyone a couple of questions to see how much use we actually make of it.
Becca: “How often, if at all, do you use Siri?”
Greg: “Never, don’t like people listening to what I’m doing, and when I have used it, it hasn’t worked.”
Anna: “Weekly, I have started using Siri a lot more recently and my children use it as their standard way of finding anything in Google”
Iain: “Once in a blue moon, but more and more often”
James: “Once in a blue moon”
It seems that we’ve all dabbled with Siri, and on the whole are incorporating voice search into our routine more and more. Around 55% of teens and 41% of adults are actually using voice search on a daily basis. That’s a lot of opportunity for companies to make use of, and bring using natural language to the forefront. Note that this stat from Google was from a sample of 1,400 people.
So what’s in store for the future of voice search, will it become mainstream?
Becca: “Do you think voice search will become mainstream in the next 5 years?”
Greg: “Yes, but only within certain environments, like the home, for example, Amazon Echo’s home automation, “Lights on” etc.
Anna: “Yes, I think it is already fairly mainstream, to be honest. With the Amazon Echo being released in the UK in September, and the Google Home, it will become even more important over the next months, especially with some people buying those as Christmas gifts. These devices are all just a small indication of where we are headed, and Google knows this. That’s why they are putting a lot of their resources into machine learning and giving things like featured snippets more pride of place in search results, these power voice search answers. Voice search is allowing us to return to a more natural way or searching/interacting online.
Iain: “Yes. But we need to be careful here, as I smell another monopolising opportunity. Microsoft did it with Internet Explorer and made it appear to be the only choice. When we set up our mobile devices in future, we should decide which Voice Search service we want to interact with, regardless of the device we have, i.e. it shouldn’t just be Siri for Apple or Alexa for Amazon’s Echo.”
“Secondly, the term web designers may fade off into obscurity, although not in the next 5 years. We may not be designing visual, web-based interfaces at all, although the systems that run the content will exist (CMSs, databases, etc). Instead, we’re simply supplying the content, and Voice Search systems will be delivering the content in the best way they see fit.”
James: “Yes. I think looking at technology history it demonstrates the capacity to do so. With enough push from people and tech pioneers alike, it should get to a level of everyday use for every person. The only reason not many use it currently is because it’s not good enough and not integrated enough into our OS and lives due to that fact. With the right push, it will be there soon.”
I agree with my team. I think voice search will become mainstream in the next five years. Companies are putting more and more emphasis on the power of voice, We now have a wide selection to choose from, Google Assistant, Amazon Echo, Siri, Cortana, could there be even more to come?
It’s also going to have an impact on SEO. The way in which people use search terms is very different when using voice search. For example, if you were to Google something, you might type “Italian restaurants in Islington”. Whereas, if you were to ask a voice assistant, you might phrase it differently, in a more conversational tone, “Where’s the nearest Italian restaurant?” We had to unlearn voice search because search engines were dumb. Now, we are having to train ourselves to talk naturally again, rather than using one, two, or three-word search queries. We don’t need to adapt to voice search, it should be what comes to us naturally.
At the moment, I’m not a big user of voice search, I always feel a bit silly using it in front of other people, and have no real desire to speak to a device when I’m happy to type. However, I can definitely see that voice search has a place, and is going to become the norm before we know it. In five years, we’ll probably all have an assistant in our homes, listening to our every command. The next thing to think about is, do we want them to listen?