Voice interfaces today are where mobile interfaces were in 2009

By Damian McCabe, VP Engineering

Conversational interfaces, be them text or speech, are a vital part of creating great connected software experiences. At Connected Lab we believe that voice interfaces will be one of the biggest changes to how people interact with technology since the shift from mice and keyboard to touch-screen supercomputers in our pockets. Because of this, at Connected Lab, we’re extremely curious about voice interfaces and have been investing into R&D.

If you’ve ever used voice recognition in your car, you know what early voice interfaces were like: so awful that you stop trying. Apple’s Siri was a step forward, but is still felt limited and error-prone. “Ok Google” was better still, thanks Google’s huge dataset and open approach.

At Connected Lab, we’re combining speech recognition and machine learning to demonstrate opportunities where voice interfaces provide a better user experience than the graphical user interfaces (GUI) we’re used to. We do this through internal R&D, building product with our clients, and most recently by inviting the Toronto developer community to a 24 hour hackathon. Few things synthesize creativity like the constraints and focus of a hackathon. We partnered with Amazon and invited 80 developers, designers, and product managers to our headquarters for the 24 hour event. Amazon provided Echo devices and access to the Alexa Voice Services (AVS) platform. By all accounts it was a huge success!

I see many different opportunities emerging through voice technology. Here are three examples where voice interfaces are more accessible, convenient, and powerful than even the snappiest mobile apps:

1. Handsfree home audio

Imagine you’re cooking, and a song pops into your head. You want to listen to it now.

First, you’d have to wash and dry your hands. Then, you’d have to pull out your phone, unlock it, open your favorite music app, navigate to the song and tap to play it. Once that song is done, you would have to start the process over again.

Or, you could just speak and have whatever song your heart desires start playing.

If you’re a home audio aficionado and have speakers in different rooms, you could specify which speakers you’d like to hear the music out of (e.g., “Play “Layla” by Eric Clapton on my living room speakers).

Home audio has come a long way since the days of AM/FM radio. We believe that consumer audio brands will facilitate better experiences through connected home audio software.

2. Get to the facts in a fraction of the time

Back in the early days of the desktop internet, your homepage would be set to aol.com or Netscape’s portal so you could browse and discover “the web” through catalogues of links. Then it changed and you could go to Google, type in a question, and retrieve information within seconds.

Ironically, now we navigate through smartphone apps to find information. Take out your phone, unlock it, open the weather app, change locations, switch to seven-day forecasts, then find the probability of precipitation.

A voice interface can just tell you what the weather looks like with one simple command. It can also take things a step further and provide even more useful answers depending on the context.

It would have taken much longer to gather all that information across different apps or websites. Voice recognition platforms like this can collect that information, make sense of it, and make it much more accessible.

3. Get a personalized glimpse of your day

After you wake up, or as you’re brushing your teeth, your voice software can give you a breakdown of what your day looks like:

Your company may have a great mobile app, but you need to think beyond that now. Mobile devices are still vital to the software experience, but once again digital strategy requires moving into new channels with new interfaces. I predict people will use their screens less, and their voices more. Apps are going to evolve beyond navigating through menus with our thumbs, into technology that we can converse with.