Optimizing for voice assistants: Why actions speak louder than words

By Pete Campbell

“Hey Siri, remind me to invent you in 30 years”

In 1987, Apple came up with the idea of a “Knowledge Navigator”. You can see the full video here, but it’s a concept that’s remarkably – and perhaps, not coincidentally – similar to our modern smart device assistants, Siri among them.

Its features included a talking screen, reacting to vocal commands to provide information and sort calendars.

In theory, we’re there, 30 years later – though the reality doesn’t always quite match up to the dream.

Even when it does work, voice hasn’t always been exactly what people were looking for. The thing most adults said they wish their voice search systems could do was find their keys (though teens said they most wished it could send them pizza).

Although we’re getting to the stage where that’s possible now, the majority of developments in voice have been voice search – talking to your phone to find out information.

Showing search results for “Why can’t you understand me, you stupid phone”

But while talking to a device can be a better experience than playing around with a virtual keyboard on a phone or a physical one on a computer, there are two major issues with voice search.

The first is that it’s still clunky. Half the time you have to repeat yourself in order to be understood, particularly if the word you’re trying to get across is slang or an abbreviation of some sort, which is to say, the default sort of language you’d think would be fitting for “conversational” search.

It doesn’t feel smooth, and it doesn’t feel effortless – and that pretty much removes the point of it.

The other is that it simply doesn’t add value. A voice search isn’t achieving anything you couldn’t do by simply typing in the same thing.

But recently, we’ve seen developments to the voice control industry, starting with Alexa. At this point, everyone’s familiar with the Echo and its younger sibling, the Echo Dot – it’s been in adverts, our friends have it, maybe we have it ourselves.

The Alexa devices were among Amazon’s best-selling products in 2016, especially around Christmas, and the trend doesn’t show significant signs of slowing. But if we’ve had Siri since 2011, why is Alexa picking up so much traction now?

The answer is that it’s not voice search. It’s voice commands. Alexa is more exciting and satisfying for users because it provides an action – you speak to it and something happens. You now can order a pizza – or an Uber, or a dollhouse.

That’s what people have been wanting from their devices – the ability to control the world around them by talking to it, not just have an alternative to a keyboard.

Ultimately, the commands are more personal. You can go on a website and order a pizza, and you can customise it and pay for it and it’ll show up, but talking to Alexa is akin to saying Go to the full article.

Source:: Search Engine Watch

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