The gold rush of Voice UI

I have always been resistant to the hype cycle, not in my early days but certainly as I enter my 18th year of a career in web and digital products. Voice UIs have been the new news for at least 12months but as always my head was telling me it’s going to be a great utility but why are people losing their brains over it.

Today I perhaps got a peek into just why so many companies are going big on voice.

The obvious and the hidden

You probably think I am pretty dumb – “what’s the fuss around voice ui? It’s like super user friendly and easy to use” – yep, yep I get you, it’s a home run, no brainer. That’s the obvious user benefit, and so long as it’s accurate and able to deal with all kinds of situations and voices – it will be utopia.

But there is a hidden cost to all this in implementing the meta data to power voice ui and no massive benefits to those businesses implementing them, more user friendly – absolutely, maybe sells a bit more hardware – sure, possible duel use for accessibility help -winner, but will people watch, read or listen to more stuff than usual? Jury’s out.

However I didn’t see the real reason beyond a nice extra feature to sell on why companies were so quick to bring this in until today when I got to see behind the curtain of what it means to consider putting content into a platform’s meta data for voice search.

The new google adwords for everyone

Behind every platform from TV manufacturers to home speakers to games consoles there has been a bit of a race to create a place people have bought into and want to experience. With this the platform providers have built an audience that content makers want to get in front of. Being on hardware this means you buy into their particular flavour of walled garden. And there, behind the pretty roses and the well kept lawns is a safe where the platform owners hold the keys.

There is a great way to think about product development. You either innovate, taking huge risks trying something truly new and you will take many years, many fails and might not even be the one to crack it. Or you can simply iterate, and take an idea that already works seamlessly somewhere else and put that into a new space. Voice UI for the holders of the keys is their version of google search without the hinderance of a single open platform like the web. So while google beat everyone to own search on the web, all the individual players in the market can monetise their own platforms around Voice Search if they like.

Sure there will certainly be copyright and obvious ownership of brands and certain properties but what about generic terms? “Hey google let me hear some rock music”, “hola Alexa, show me some sport”, “hey Siri, book me the cheapest train to hull”.

Who owns the words? The terms we find things behind in a universal search found on a platform? The platform owners do. And every content and service provider out there will be in the mix to be top of the search rankings under these terms…they just need to get you hooked on using them.

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