Voice assistants - are they really the future?

We’re still at the beginning of the new year, so it’s common for experts to list their prophecies for the coming year. One thing a lot of people seem to be certain about is that 2019 is the year when voice input will take advance significantly and become a much more established way of communicating with our devices.

According to Adobe Analytics, 71% of the owners of smart speakers (like Amazon Echo and Google Home) use their voice assistants at least daily and 44% using them multiple times per day. Over 76% of smart speaker owners increased their usage of voice assistants in the last year.

So what’s the driver behind this change? You could say there are “changing user demands.” “There is an increased overall awareness and a higher level of comfort demonstrated specifically by millennial consumers. In this ever-evolving digital world where speed, efficiency, and convenience are constantly being optimized.” Me? I’m not entirely sure. I still get the feeling that we’re pursuing a lot of the voice technology because we can rather than there being an actual demand.

Personally, I use an HomePod in my office to play music (and mostly control it through voice) and I use Siri on my phone to set timers a timer while cooking. In order for voice assistants to actually break through to the masses in 2019, I believe there are a couple of things they first need to be able to handle.

#GTD yo

First, they need to be able to help me be more productive and help me get actual work done. Activating Siri and saying ‘Add design review to my project in Things’ is not particularly faster than opening Things and just typing it in. I can open my email application and type a reply faster than I can tell Siri to do it. I can usually add an event to my calendar more quickly than telling Siri to add ‘Lunch with Klas on Tuesday, February 5th at 12:00 at Saltimporten successfully. It needs to help me get actual work done. And most importantly, I should able to trust it to complete it successfully without me having to double check to make sure it didn’t make a mistake.

If voice assistants are to become true ‘personal assistants’, they need to be much closer to what an actual personal assistant would be. Would an actual assistant ever get confused by the same simple, mundane command twice eventually just answering that they can’t perform the task? No. However, these companies are working hard for us to think of Siri and Alexa as humans. Voice is the new Skeuomorphism.

The articulation of the metaphor of a human assistant and the way voice assistants mimic humans is literal. Just as buttons look literally like button on the skeuomorphic visual interface, the voice assistant that sounds literally like a human is a skeuomorphism. The New Skeuomorphism is in Your Voice Assistant

Understanding context

There’s a lot of talk about how the voice assistants are getting far better at understanding context. What this means is that follow-up questions are understood as related to a question asked before. So if I ask ‘What’s the weather like tomorrow in Oslo?’, I can follow-up with ‘Will it snow?’ and my assistant understands that I’m asking about tomorrow and Oslo. Or if I ask ‘Who’s the president of the United States?’ and follow-up with ‘Is he impeached yet?’, it understands that he refers to the president of the United States.

While that’s great for micro interactions I think what’s really missing, from a user’s experience, is more personalized context. It should be aware of what apps I use. If I tell Siri to ‘Remind me to call Klas’, it should be aware that I use Things for reminders, not the default Reminders app. Then it will automatically place the reminder in the correct app (based on my settings). Similarly, if I ask about the weather, it should know what my default weather app is. The requests should be on my terms, not theirs.

It should be aware of what I’m currently doing. If I’m listening to The Talkshow, I should be able to say ‘Remind me of this’ and it should create a direct link to 30 seconds earlier in the podcast. If I’m browsing something on Amazon and I say ‘Remind me to buy this’, it should include a link to the product without me having to specify it.

I’m sure that there is a lot of future in voice commands, but if they are supposed to ‘be the thing of 2019’, I think the software and executions behind them really has a long way to go. People are not going to be entertained by being able to ask ‘Who starred in Casino?’ forever.*

  • not to mention you can still only set ONE timer on iOS and you can’t even do that on your Mac!
Please share:TwitterLinkedInFacebook
Get more writing like this

Sign up and get new writing, just like this, every other two weeks. Unsubscribe any time (I'm not a dickhead).

Books

User Experiences that Matter (2016)
Mastering Freelance (2017)

If You're Getting Started in UX

What's a 'User Experience' Anyways?
How Do You Learn UX?
Working as a UX Designer

Next Steps in UX

Working as a UX Lead
Defining a UX Strategy
Writing as Part of the UX Process

Thought-pieces

AI Ethics - A New Skill for UX-Designers
Designer Ethics & The Moral Implications of our Apps
The Future of the UX-Designer
Voice Input’s Effect on Social Norms

The Work We Do

Chasing Growth
New Tools Don’t Always Equal Productivity
Why Designers Need to Write
The Tools I Use to Run My Business

Featured Writing & Interviews Elsewhere

Q&A With Anton Sten, Author of User Experiences that Matter - Adobe
What the F*#!ck is a UX Designer anyway - Working not Working
It’s Time for a Code of Ethics for Designers - Medium Modus
The Art of Going Freelance - .Net Magazine
It Takes Time - Being Freelance episode 100

From My Newsletter

Who’s listening?

UX of Email Newsletters

Working as a UX-lead

2018 in review

What’s my location?

I’m taking a break

Stay humble, stay eager

Back to Work!

Vanity Metrics

The Future of Retail

2017 review

What do you do?

Carpe Diem UX-designers

What´s Good Design?

Chasing Growth

A Redesign

Is Less More?

Why Simple is Hard

Pricing It Perfectly

Trusting Your Gut

Built to last

An Eye on the Future

UX Design explained

Bite-sized Posts

The Enemy

The Hot Potato Process

Leave the Phone at Home

Delight Comes Last

The Cost of Lies

Big Mood Machine

Simplicity is a war

The next iPhone

Leadership or management

Everyone should own a dog

Silence is gold

Cameras that understand

Humans, not users

Keeping AI Honest

Right to privacy

The State of UX in 2019

Why scrap scrappy?

Organized for browsing

The iPhone Franchise

Why Small Teams Win

The Bullshit Web

Just keep at it

Let them eat cake

Netflix Culture

Skype

Unfoundered

Tech is not Neutral

Productivity

Whose risk?

Why Small Teams Win

Phone Bored

Karim Rashid

Dieter Rams

Bleeding Out

Fake News is spam

Conversational Design

Dropbox

Bye bye Facebook

Cuba

The seat at the table

Givenchy

Love letters to trees

Pricing Philisophy

Specialize

Personas

Make me think

Hawaii Missile Alert

Why Design Systems fail

What You Build

Living a Testing Culture

Checkout for Winners

Creative Class

How To Predict Your Future

Github

Medium

Design quotes

Enough

Why?

ARKit

Designing for Mobile

Failure, Reflect, Renew

Growth

Working with me

Great user experience

Naming your icons

Conversations

All writing

Who’s listening?

The Enemy

The Hot Potato Process

Leave the Phone at Home

UX of Email Newsletters

Delight Comes Last

The Cost of Lies

Big Mood Machine

Simplicity is a war

The next iPhone

Working as a UX-lead

Leadership or management

Everyone should own a dog

Silence is gold

Cameras that understand

Humans, not users

Keeping AI Honest

Right to privacy

2018 in review

What’s my location?

The State of UX in 2019

Why scrap scrappy?

I’m taking a break

Organized for browsing

Stay humble, stay eager

The iPhone Franchise

Why Small Teams Win

Back to Work!

The Bullshit Web

Just keep at it

Let them eat cake

Netflix Culture

Skype

Unfoundered

Vanity Metrics

Tech is not Neutral

Productivity

Whose risk?

Why Small Teams Win

Phone Bored

Karim Rashid

Dieter Rams

Bleeding Out

Fake News is spam

Conversational Design

Dropbox

Bye bye Facebook

Cuba

The seat at the table

Givenchy

Love letters to trees

Pricing Philisophy

Specialize

Personas

Make me think

The Future of Retail

Hawaii Missile Alert

2017 review

Why Design Systems fail

What You Build

Living a Testing Culture

Checkout for Winners

What do you do?

Creative Class

How To Predict Your Future

Carpe Diem UX-designers

What´s Good Design?

Chasing Growth

Github

Medium

A Redesign

Design quotes

Enough

Why?

ARKit

Designing for Mobile

Is Less More?

Why Simple is Hard

Pricing It Perfectly

Failure, Reflect, Renew

Trusting Your Gut

Built to last

An Eye on the Future

Growth

Working with me

UX Design explained

Great user experience

Naming your icons

Conversations