Emerging Tech PrototypingStrategy and InnovationApp Development

Voice technology is about to level up your app offering

You’ve heard it before:

“Siri doesn’t understand me!”

“My Alexa always turns on when I don’t want her to.”

“Google Assistant sent me to Sycamore Street instead of Sycamore Lane, so I’m gonna be another thirty minutes. Save me a seat?”

Consumers are frustrated with voice assistants. They aren’t quite meeting users’ high expectations, and with all of the data about how biased voice assistants are, we can’t blame them. Most technology launches to great fanfare and falls in people’s esteem before it reaches full product maturity, as illustrated by the Gartner Hype Cycle.

Currently, consumers are in what Gartner has dramatically termed, “the Trough of Disillusionment.” Maybe you had to ask Google three times to check the weather, or Siri couldn’t hear what you asked for and told you a fact about a koala instead. It’s tough to go from the lofty peaks of expectation only to plunge into the harsh realm of reality.

However, if you’re paying attention to Gartner’s slope of enlightenment—and general market forces—it’s clear that the use of voice technology is primed for a steady rise in the next few years. Our teams at WillowTree have been watching the major tech companies with excitement, waiting to see what advancements we’ll be able to work with next. Let’s have a look at some reasons why we’re ready to build multi-modal voice-integrated apps, then show you one we built to demonstrate the possibilities.

Voice infrastructure is growing like crazy

The infrastructure is falling into place to support the continued rapid adoption of voice assistants. They are the fastest-adopted technology of all time—faster than smartphones. About one in four adults in the United States owns a smart speaker, according to the latest Voicebot Consumer Adoption Report, and per Salesforce, smartphones have reached an over 75% adoption rate. These statistics show us that voice is now in the stage of early majority, which means that companies need to be thinking about the ways in which voice technology could improve the user experience for their customers. If more consumers have access to voice technology than those who don’t, consumers will start to expect to be able to use their voice to access information.

Consumers might not be thrilled, but they’re still using voice assistants

Despite the general feeling that voice assistants simply don’t do that much, aren’t that helpful, and/or are a threat to people’s privacy, consumers are still using them. Three out of four smart speaker owners report being monthly active users. That same Voicebot report also found that over 70% of smartphone owners had used a voice assistant on their phone, up from just over 50% the year before. Being able to ask a smart device for information is becoming steadily more ubiquitous. Indeed, in Voicebot’s consumer survey, users definitely had general misgivings about voice technology, but the majority of them still believe that voice technology is improving. That’s true: voice assistants get smarter through machine learning, so the more people use them, the better they will get at understanding them. Purveyors of voice technology still have work to do on clarifying their privacy policies and building consumer trust, but they are already well on their way.

Voice’s benefits seriously outweigh its drawbacks

The clearest benefit of being able to use your voice to access an application is speed. We’re so used to information being at our literal fingertips at all times by being able to type on our smartphones, but humans can speak an awful lot faster than they can tap words out on a keyboard. Being able to ask for something aloud is also just plain convenient. Imagine being in a car—a place where it’s important for your hands and eyes to be fully engaged with driving—and being able to ask your phone to pull up directions to your destination. It’s faster, and perhaps more importantly in this scenario, it’s abundantly safer for both the customer and their fellow human beings on the road. Being able to use your voice to control an application also makes it accessible to disabled people who might find a touchscreen tough or impossible to use. As we know, designing with inclusivity in mind is a very important aspect of product design and thinking about accessibility is necessary for every app and every company. Voice will become a major mover in allowing more people access to technology that can improve their lives.

Multi-modal apps are the way forward

We’re not saying that typing is going anywhere: between the privacy concerns of a voice-only application to certain social situations where being quiet is important, the need for a manual input is still clear. What we believe is that a multi-modal app—one that allows users to choose both how they ask for and how they receive information—is the kind of user experience that will create the kind of differentiation companies want between them and their competitors. Users desire control and forcing them down pre-prescribed pathways doesn’t feel good. Allowing multiple options for how a user could arrive at the same piece of information, whether by saying something aloud or typing it in, gives users the power of choice. This kind of thoughtful design work will have a real impact on user experience, and on the perception of voice technology in general.

WillowTree is fully on board this voice train

Let’s have a look at how we’re working to integrate voice into an app’s infrastructure. One of WillowTree’s product teams had a look at some of the existing apps on the market for ordering pizza from your phone. On most, users have to manually add in the pizza’s size, crust and sauce type, every individual topping, and the amount of that topping they want before they are able to add it to their cart and check out. For such a simple set of requests, that existing user experience felt so time-consuming—so we set out to design a voice-powered Android app that could stack up against the industry’s top competitors. Here’s a video of our prototype side-by-side with one of the competitor’s:

Embedded content: https://vimeo.com/344648318

As you can see, saying the order aloud is over four times faster than inputting it manually into the competitor’s app. It’s speedy, it’s convenient, and it gets your users’ mouths to pizza about thirty seconds faster—which, as far as we’re concerned, is a huge win.

Get ready to get voice going at your company

Voice infrastructure is already here: now it’s up to us to start delivering fast, convenient voice experiences to customers. Get in touch if you want to learn more about how WillowTree can make voice work for you.

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