Audio: The Next User Interface is Here

Don’t fall in love with your OS, instead, make it your audio assistant


I have been told we are on the cusp of entirely new ways to interface with technology. I have been promised that an up and coming technology will be the next multi-touch. Some say the Myo armband, Google Glass, Leap Motion, Oculus Rift, or wearables like Nymi and a possible iWatch will save us from the barbaric practice of clicking mouses and tapping our screens (ew, fingerprints).

I propose that that there is an interface method that provides a way to access our technology, without fingers. It’s a technology that is already (mostly) socially acceptable, unlike Google Glass, Oculus VR, or waving your hands in front of a screen. What is this magical interface?

Audio.

A “real photo” of a UX professional pining for an interface method more interesting than a mouse or multi-touch.

Now, I don’t claim to be the first person to think of audio as an interface. In fact I am quite late to the audio party. I bet you can name 10 apps with an audio interfaces off the top of your head. (Siri, Google Search/Now, Nuance/Vlingo, iOS Accessibility, Dragon Dictation, OS X Dictation, etc.) Some call these products failures. They see nothing more than tech demos, or simple tools for niche markets.


You may ask, “Hey man, why are you so excited about audio interfaces?”. To that I say, “Look at this list below”

All the big players are trying to solve the car problem (Microsoft Sync, iOS in the Car, Google’s Open Automotive Alliance,  CarPlay). Few players are trying to solve problems for the visually impaired, the walkers and runners, the cold people who don’t want to pull their hands out of their pockets, and those who just want to look at their phone less.

I am inspired by a feature in the initial release of Windows Phone as seen in the video below:

Just watch the first 40 seconds or so.

Using this feature, I plug in my headphones or pair with bluetooth headset and texts are read aloud. I can reply without pulling it out of my pocket. The first time this worked flawlessly for me while driving and walking, I was ecstatic. It’s not perfect and has no idea how to recognize the word Chipotle, but that is besides the point. It was effective and it allowed me to text my wife when I otherwise would have to wait until I got home.

I see an opportunity to provide software designed for audio first as opposed to touch first.

If I could take a walk and text my wife quick responses without pulling my phone out and squinting at the screen in bright sunlight, thats a major win. If I can provide a way for the visually impaired and those with a long commute to listen to news, email, books, or PDFs on the go, thats something of value. If there was a product that allowed me to know who is trying to contact me and what they want without taking my phone out of my pocket for a quick glance, I would buy it.


I am sure there are some services that do similar things, but I haven’t had my problems solved yet, so I plan to scratch my own itch. I think there are great audio and accessibility tools on the desktop, but the tools are lacking on mobile.

I want to improve the software ecosystem for the visually impaired, the commuter, and those who just enjoy listening to things.


Let me know if there are great products I am missing or other tools I should be aware of. Hit me up @iAmChrisTruman to share feedback.