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Top 10 Takeaways from CES: What Do Leaders Need to Know About Voice in 2020?

At CES this year, Modev, VOICE, Google Assistant, and additional sponsors put on the first-ever Voice Live From CES: a one-day conference track at CES that featured keynotes, case studies, and research to help brand leaders understand what the future holds for voice technology.

WillowTree CEO, Tobias Dengel, gave a keynote presentation on The Psychology of User Experience Design in Voice, hosted a fireside chat with Synchrony Financial Chief Marketing Officer Chris Merrill, and participated in a panel led by CNET’s Ben Rubin, with brand leaders from Prudential, Mayo Clinic, GE, and NPR.

Watch a Video of The Session Embedded content:

Voice has been a focus across the entirety of CES, with huge announcements and displays from Google and Amazon, plus a general buzz around the conference that helps confirm our certainty that voice will continue to transform the digital landscape in 2020 and beyond.

We’ve learned so many insights on voice at CES — these are our top 10 takeaways.

1. Voice will continue to expand across the digital ecosystem.

At CES four years ago, voice was all about the smart speaker device, then in the last two years it became about the smart speaker integrating with other devices. In 2020, the conversation has changed because voice now transcends any device. There are hundreds of millions of voice-enabled devices, so the emphasis is much less on the devices themselves, but rather how we can make voice more cohesive across the digital ecosystem.

2. Brands will have their own voice assistants.’s Founder and CEO Bret Kinsella predicted at Voice Live From CES that by 2025, at least 25% of the top 500 brands will have their own voice assistant — those assistants will work on available channels like Google, Amazon, and Samsung, but will expand the experience that brands can offer to consumers. With in-app voice assistants, the brand is able to control and tailor the UX of the response to give their customers the experience they expand from that brand, driving loyalty and increased revenue downstream.

3. Screens are just as important to voice as voice itself.

We were excited to hear that the number one thing that the VP of Engineering for Google Assistant, Scott Huffman, expects from voice in 2020 is that “screens will change everything with voice.” Their research indicated that about half of the time a user interacts with voice, their journey goes voice to screen. Voice alone is only the most efficient interface for a handful of simple actions. Beyond checking the weather, playing music, and other common use cases for voice today (or when voice doesn’t work), the user needs to turn to the screen, with textual and graphical outputs that can handle more complex cases. WillowTree has been emphasizing multimodal experiences that combine voice and screens for quite some time, driving our call to action for the market to Give Your Apps a Voice™.

4. Trust is crucial for integration of voice into our daily lives.

Voice cannot transform businesses the same way that the web and mobile devices have until people have more trust in voice. Building trust requires reactive improvements in security and privacy, but it also requires proactive, foundational improvements in making voice experiences more reliable and accurate. Incorporating efficiencies like multimodal into voice drives trust, because it helps deliver the fast, reliable experiences that users expect.

5. Security and privacy remain focal areas of improvement.

Amazon’s home security company, Ring, endured significant pressure at CES due to security lapses in the past few months. To combat this, Ring announced new security features such as two-factor authentication and a new Control Center, that is expected to debut on the Ring app this year. Panelists among WillowTree at Voice Live From CES pointed out that improving the screen experience with multimodal helps alleviate some of the privacy issues, especially for sensitive industries such as financial services where you may want to ask Alexa what your account balance is but you don’t want her to yell it back out to you in public.

6. We need to solve the discoverability problem.

The process of finding and then using Alexa skills and Google Assistant actions, similarly to mobile apps, runs counter to how humans naturally acquire information. Generally speaking, you have to find the skill, activate it, and then summon it for use. SEO transformed discoverability for the web, app store optimization is transforming discoverability for mobile apps, and new initiatives (such as in-app deep linking, for example), will transform discoverability for voice.

7. Accuracy matters, but it’s table stakes.

Recent developments such as the voice assistant built into Google’s Pixel 4 and Sonos’ acquisition of Snips have the common thread of processing transitioning onto the local device, which drastically improves accuracy. These updates are crucial to create the responsive voice experience that users expect, but didn’t garner as much attention at CES as issues such as security and privacy.

8. Voice will transform the workplace, perhaps before it transforms the consumer space.

This prediction from Tobias Dengel was echoed by VERSA’s Head of Conversational Research and Strategy, Dr. Joan Palmiter Bajorek, who talked about how voice could drastically improve workplace productivity by speaking emails instead of writing them. Prudential’s VP of Technology, David Heafitz stated that he wants “2020 to be the year to make the workplace accessible to all…if we create an ecosystem of collaboration among brands and organizations in a trusted manner.”

9. Amazon continues to be a dominant player in the space — but it’s not all good news.

Security controversies were a significant topic of conversation and press coverage, the likes of which Google notably did not have to face. CNET’s Ben Rubin writes that there are twice as many Alexa-enabled devices in consumers’ hands today than since the start of 2019 — this includes Amazon’s own speakers, tablets, and TVs, plus third-party devices including mobile phones, wearables, and cars.

10. Google is a strong competitor that is driving voice forward.

Google’s largest announcement at CES was that Google Assistant recently hit the milestone of 500 million monthly users, which is notable given that the Assistant is about halfway to reaching the user count of other leading Google products such as Drive, Maps, and Chrome. CNET’s Jessica Dolcourt noted that the organization has improved the process of setting up the Assistant with third-party devices, plus introduced new privacy controls that gave Google a strategic advantage over Amazon at CES.

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