Voice is here and it is here right NOW.

Here's how we know.

Be it the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) declaring Voice as the "next Computer Interface" or industry experts proclaiming 2017 as the "Year of Voice", Voice has clearly been the talk of the town for the past one year. Advances in fields such as Artificial Intelligence, Speech Recognition, Natural Language Processing and Deep Learning have led us to the threshold of an era where frictionless voice interaction becomes reality.

Following are some indicators to support this claim.

  1. Communication is finally user-centric

    Regardless of the omnipresence of smartphones and mobile platforms, our ability to communicate with technology has remained largely unchanged over the years - primarily consisting of entering commands through a keyboard-like device and interpreting output independently by looking at a screen. Especially from the customer's perspective, this process can be regarded as cumbersome and inefficient.

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    Given that voice is regarded as being more cross-generational than any other communication channel known to mankind, the advent of Voice technology marks the end of this dependence on redundant mechanical devices for interaction with computers.

  2. Virtual assistants are proliferating

    With the Alexa Echo Dot and Google Home Mini priced under $50 and even the high- end models not over $400 vis-a-vis the capabilities and amount of usage they offer, these voice devices are certainly worth a try. These hardware devices are acting as a driving force in enabling voice-based applications further towards the mainstream.
    Having witnessed a nine-fold increase in sales year over year, Amazon Echo is proof enough that sales of personal assistants are on the rise.

  3. Voice search is growing exponentially

    The following infographic briefly summarizes various milestones in recent times in support of this claim.
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    With search giants Google and Microsoft each claiming that about 25% of mobile searches are now performed using voice and also significant increase in the same compared to past years, it seems assuring that voice search is only bound to boom.

  4. Voice is not just fancy

    The world's most sophisticated technology still wouldn't be warmly embraced if it weren't useful. Voice technology is no different.

    Here are few factors that explain its popularity.

    1. a seamless integration in smart-homes
    2. the ability of being useful when hands/vision are occupied and
    3. putting an end to the difficulty associated with typing (either on certain devices or in certain languages like Chinese).

    Today, Voice is not only part of smartphones and computers, but is also being integrated into common home electronics(washing machines, refrigerators and televisions), factories and autonomous vehicles. This has triggered a movement towards investing in digital transformative technologies where voice is central to machine-to-man communication.

Why companies should consider investing in Voice

Business decisions, regardless of sector; often depend on a good understanding of the maturity and evolution of technologies. Seen as a tool that helps compare one's understanding against expert analysis of technologies' maturity, Gartner's iconic Hype Cycle is familiar to most decision makers and company managers. Though not a guarantee, the Hype Cycle does reveal opportunity for success.
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The 2017 edition of the annually published Hype Cycle on Emerging Technologies by Gartner places both Conversational User Interfaces (CUIs) and Virtual Assistants(VAs) in the running for the next 5 to 10 years.

Numerous chatbots and messaging platforms were instrumental in the rapid growth of CUIs in 2017; promoting CUIs to be feasible alternatives to conventional graphical user interfaces(GUIs).
According to Matt Cain, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner,

"We expect application suite vendors to increasingly implement CUIs in front of business applications, leading to hundreds of different chat interfaces." Mr. Cain adds - "Businesses that have not begun the process of deploying VAs to interact with customers and employees should start now. They should look for opportunities to use VAs to make users more productive with business apps and mobile platforms, and carefully measure the impact of VAs on behavior and performance."

Furthermore, Voice has also secured a place among Gartner's Top Strategic Predictions for 2018.

"By 2021, early adopter brands that redesign their websites to support visual and voice search will increase digital commerce revenue by 30%."

This is one among the many forecasts in favour of Voice-based technology.

Needless to say, it is up to businesses to get ahead of the curve, and provide added value to their customers.
On the other hand, developing applications that take advantage of this technology at such an early stage in its maturation surely comes with risks attached. Nevertheless, there are some clearly lucrative factors for enterprises to invest in Voice technology (besides keeping up with new trends).

  1. Early adoption

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    Great PR - Standing on the leading edge and leveraging these emerging platforms presents a great opportunity to transform an organization into an innovative brand, thereby attracting publicity.

    Competitive advantage - Early adoption could result in the "First-mover advantage", allowing to secure a greater share of the customer base before the market is saturated. By identifying best approaches to keep customers engaged on these new platforms, companies that start early will gain well-defined experience and acquire user trust before competition rises.

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    A recent survey conducted by Voicebot.ai shows that in addition to more people acquiring the Amazon Echo devices than earlier, a consumer with one device is highly likely to purchase several more. It goes without saying that Amazon seems to have already acquired an edge over other players in this market.

  2. Gateway to the Smart Home

    In a survey conducted by IFTTT in April 2017, 91% users revealed that their voice assistant made them more likely to buy another smart device in the future. While 60% said they want a security system, 57% favoured lighting devices, and 43% opted for a thermostat. Connected vehicles, fitness trackers and smart hubs were also among the preferred options. Regardless of the choice of device itself, it is evident that compatibility with their voice assistant is becoming an important factor when deciding which connected device to purchase.
    Brands such as WeMo, Philips, Caseta, and Lifx already allow their devices to be paired with voice assistants such as Amazon Echo.
    Integration of such intelligent, scalable and fail-safe voice user interfaces promises operations with improved workflows and reduced time.

    Estimated by Gartner; to reach 20.4 billion connected things and have a total size of close to 3 trillion USD by 2020, Internet of Things is predicted to become the third largest market by 2020. This implies humongous scope for voice applications too.

  3. Social Impact

    Quoting the Handbook of special education technology research and practice -

    "For most of us, technology makes things easier. For a person with disability, it makes things possible."

    Big companies such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Yahoo have on several occasions stressed the need to boost accessibility and "to think and build inclusively".
    Voice brings with it enormous benefit to those with visual impairments and anyone who struggles with technology-be it non-computer users or even the elderly. By replacing a swarm of information sources, these virtual assistants help accomplish tasks via simple voice commands. Even something as trivial as "Alexa, what time is it?" could prove really helpful to someone who has trouble reading a clock or the time on his phone because his eyesight has gotten so poor.
    Enabling such communities in need; is not only a way of giving back to the society but enhances one's overall sense of purpose and satisfaction.

    As Bill Bradley rightly points out - "Leadership is unlocking people's potential to become better" and voice technology provides enterprises with this unique opportunity of becoming market leaders.

  4. Unconstrained by domain

    By becoming more accessible and sneaking its way into all aspects of our lives, Voice Technology is changing the way things are done.

    1. Online shopping - Users can now instruct a device to order for their favorite stuff instead of filling out tedious online forms each time. While Google Home is able to order products from retailers not limited to Whole Foods, Walgreens and Bed Bath & Beyond, about 10% of Amazon Echo owners admitted to using it for online shopping, in a survey by IFTTT.

    2. Vehicles - Controlling music via voice assistants has been one of the most popular use-cases so far. Cars act as the perfect playground for using a hands-free, non-visual voice-powered interface, without compromising safety.

    3. Health Care - An integral part of proper care in hospitals, clinics and nursing homes is the logging of information (patient history, symptoms, medication etc.) following by retrieval of the recorded details by referring to the notes.
      By integrating a voice-activated assistant, the burden of managing multiple information sources and the risk of getting hands dirty - may be avoided. Boston Children's Hospital has already begun exploring innovative ways of putting voice technology to use in the healthcare sector.

    4. Workplace - Scheduling appointments, setting reminders for to-dos, managing emails, providing updates on status reports, sharing information with co-workers in distant locations, managing conferences/meetings - are just few examples of tasks suited for voice assistants and there are more possibilities opening up to allow voice assistants to penetrate deeper into the corporate segment.

If not given a thought already, these reasons should motivate businesses to plunge into the voice ecosystem.