Why voice is the catalyst for compatibility

Linden Tibbets
Oct 4, 2016 · 5 min read

The next wave is here — but it’s not just one new thing.

“Do you think Mom & Dad would like an Amazon Alexa, or maybe a new Google Home?” This is a question a lot of people will ask this holiday season. Whether your folks have the patience of an early adopter or the low tolerance of the late majority, it doesn’t matter. If they don’t have one now, they will soon.

The early promise that Alexa delivers on (and the massive investments that Amazon, Google, Apple, and every other big consumer tech company is making in voice) guarantees that conversational interfaces will become an important and valuable part of how we all control our world.

However, let’s take a step back. These new and personable interfaces, as fun and exciting as they are, will merely accelerate an even bigger shift that’s been underway for some time: the shift from interface-first to API-first businesses.

This shift, along with other “appless” UI, artificial intelligence and machine learning, are set to define an explosion of change and opportunity unlike anything we’ve seen before. Alexa, Siri, and OK Google are lighting the fuse — but they’re going to be far from the entire story.

Voice requires an “API-first” mentality

Spend more than 10 minutes with Alexa or Siri and you quickly run into the limitations of the unpersonalized personal assistant. Despite access to the unfathomable vastness of the open web, “OK Google” can’t help “Find my keys” or “Arm my security system” without a robust 3rd party ecosystem.

Even the smartest AI is effectively useless without deep access. It’s like locking Einstein in a dark, empty closet.

This need for access to the world of information around us, the fine grained context of our lives, is beyond what any one company can deliver. It will force every third party business to reexamine the value they provide. It’s not about being the best website or app, it’s about becoming a service and offering seamless experiences across an ever-expanding number of interfaces, including voice. This requires approaching your business with an API-first mindset. This mindset has already driven incredible success: Uber is an API for moving from point A to point B. Yelp is becoming an API for personalized restaurant recommendations. AWS is an API for cloud infrastructure.

Voice interfaces are not just pixel-lite — they are absolutely pixel-less. With voice, an API-first mentality is no longer just a best practice, it’s a must practice.

The dominant portal strategy is short-sighted

So far, every large company is approaching voice with a familiar strategy. It’s one we’ve seen work for every disruptive new interface: become the dominant portal. It’s hard to fault their logic. From Microsoft and the PC desktop, to the AOL and Google homepage, to Apple’s smartphone home screen — portals are the path to a $100B market cap.

However, this time, things really are different. The next wave isn’t going to be driven by just one portal, but many. What’s changed?

It’s simple: Amazon, Google, Apple, etc. all have established businesses. These aren’t startups any more and any voice portal they develop has to favor those businesses. This creates exclusives, not unlike House of Cards on Netflix, or Kanye on Tidal. And unlike the world of streaming entertainment, voice portals from established companies create inherent conflicts of interest: imagine the treatment you’ll get as an e-commerce service on Alexa, a thermostat on Google Home, or a self-driving car on Siri (or any big tech company for that matter!).

I believe all of these established companies have the best of intentions, but they won’t be able to help themselves. Their established businesses are just too important. Whether it’s what is best for consumers or not, these conflicts of interest and exclusives will keep any one single voice portal from winning.

Beyond voice: everything works with everything

Every business (at least those that want to survive into the next decade) is now a tech business, and should be ready to make the shift to a service-first, API-first mentality. If your business has a mobile app, you have an API and are ready to make the jump into voice interfaces. Unlike iOS and Android, with their heavy client apps, the barriers to adoption of any one new voice developer platform are incredibly low. The very act of plugging in your API to one voice portal positions it to be compatible, not just with the next voice portal, but with any new pixel-lite UI portal.

With API-first thinking your business will be ready for voice, augmented reality, messaging interfaces, or even becoming a portal yourself. This approach also delivers much more in terms of partnerships and compatibility — a huge advantage not just for your existing customers, but those still on the fence wondering if your service is compatible with “X”.

At IFTTT, we believe that while voice is a catalyst, services and APIs are the real story behind the next big wave of innovation. That’s why we’re committed to building a platform that not only enables your business to work with any new interface, it empowers you to integrate with any other service. And to do so with a fraction of the time and effort it would take otherwise.

Your customers deserve the confidence that comes with universal compatibility. Your business deserves the opportunities it brings. Voice is the catalyst, but we’re surfing a much bigger wave: to help every service and interface work together to reach their full potential.

Interested in working with IFTTT? Get in touch.

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Startup Grind

The life, work, and tactics of entrepreneurs around the world. Welcoming submissions on technology trends, product design, growth strategies, and venture investing. Learn more about how you can get involved at startupgrind.com.

Linden Tibbets

Written by

CEO at IFTTT. Building something cool!

Startup Grind

The life, work, and tactics of entrepreneurs around the world. Welcoming submissions on technology trends, product design, growth strategies, and venture investing. Learn more about how you can get involved at startupgrind.com.