Diving Into the Voice Assistant Ecosystem | Towards AI
Global Conversational AI Market is expected to rise to more than $27.08 billion by 2026. Main drivers that largely determine the technology further development are AI-powered customer support services and reduced chatbot development costs. Anyone can create voice experiences today due to a large number of handy development platforms. Amazon, Google, and other industry leaders are doing their best to create and promote effective and impactful skills for voice-enabled devices.
Skill stores seem to be overflooded with all that smartness voice assistants are able to get, but it still feels like we’re missing something. We took a closer look at what’s going on with the smart assistants’ ecosystems and made an attempt to forecast which skills will be on top in the very near future.
There are tens of thousands of Alexa skills and Google actions available now, and more are added every day. They’re created to assist, to entertain, to learn, to motivate, and to do many other useful and less useful things. Skills for business needs are of particular interest here. They’ve been built since the very first-day smart assistant’s ecosystems were opened to third parties. But since February 13th, the day Amazon has launched its 1000+ Blueprints, the Alexa developer ecosystem has grown greatly to hundreds of thousands of skills. Now the business is able to build its own skills to enhance productivity or collaboration and to deliver better customer service. Using these skills you can track time, manage a workforce, handle conferences, set reminders and even use Slack with Alexa.
Well, this is just the beginning — for now, smart assistants take on the role of an… actually, assistant or an office manager, but eventually they will evolve into a multifeatured smart office hub. Integrations with manufacturers of office equipment will make employee’s life much easier and save their time. Imagine saying ‘Hey Google/Alexa, print that document out, cancel all the meetings for today, start my conference call and open edit docs’ instead of half-hour mouse clicking and keyboard tapping.
Things are great for regular users too — they can use the most of available skills and actions. At the moment people mainly use voice assistants to play music, answer questions, set alarms and reminders. But voice-powered assistants have a wider range of community-made skills you can download. You may find great kitchen assistant, that helps to cook and eat healthier, or an in-car backup to keep you calm while driving, or an all-night snoring friend for you not to feel lonely, you know, whatever you want. There are 18 categories in Google Assistant and over 20 in Alexa, thousands of skills and actions. One may become confused and disoriented. Is there a way to find something really good and worthy? Does ranking matter? Should you rely on skill reviews? Is there a direct correlation between ratings and the quality of a skill?
Well, it’s complicated
First of all, it is never exactly clear how many skills (or actions) there are global. There are many skills that are simply duplicated across most or all countries that can access digital assistant. For example, this happened to a weird fact-telling Alexa skill called Egg facts — somehow there are multiple skills under the same name.
An important point is that only a few people use the assistant’s skill store to browse and therefore are unlikely to see the ratings or to write their own. As a matter of fact, this whole rating story was not very clear from the beginning.
In September 2017 Voicebot approved, that 62% of Alexa skills had no ratings, but 4% had over 1,000. They offered an analysis of how that rating system works and came to the conclusion that there’s no precise correlation between ranking, audience and skill popularity.
The key lesson of this analysis is that the total number of reviews and ratings are just one signal users should take into account when considering whether to try out a new skill. However, the fact that so few users ever access the Alexa app and actually look at skill ratings suggests it will not have a big impact on how many people use a skill or how they feel about it. What really matters here is media coverage and positive word of mouth recommendations. And the real drivers of user satisfaction and retention are the quality of the skill concept, design, and performance.
What skills are missed today
Despite the great number of existing skills and actions, most people are still not very creative about how they use their smart assistant. Usually, they ask for a weather forecast, music, news and time checking.
Usually, they do it while being alone, because they feel weird yelling at a device in public (as if talking on the phone using AirPods seems less awkward 🤪). A few go to the skills store to check for a new way to interact with their smart device, although they could find a thousand of different amusements and useful skills. Considering that they’re created by regular users too, there’s a broad range of issues these skills are covering. And whatever you can think of – most probably you will find that skill in Amazon or Google store. There are a lot of quite similar skills, but you may think of it as a competition for quality. As Adam Marchick from VoiceLabs once said:
You would rather have 493 weather apps and let consumers decide which ones they love and let the ecosystem grow instead of artificially constraining the system and forcing everyone to use one. That would undermine innovation.
What is totally missed today is new technics that could make voice interaction a real sensation. The great thing is that this exact moment has so many possibilities — take smart displays, for instance. Google has released its Nest hub and Amazon has announced Echo Show 5. These devices (and many of other manufacturers) combine smart assistant and a smart display. This alliance is quite convenient and the sales of these devices grow really fast.
Smart displays open new perspectives for skill developers — multiplayer games, education, traveling, cooking, shopping — you can enumerate a lot of things. The device may be used anywhere and for many reasons, but we believe it will find its broadest utility as a smart home hub.
Another interesting application smart displays could find — dating services. Imagine combining Tinder with a voice assistant, imagine telling your assistant what type of partner you’re looking for. Maybe you will even trust your assistant, who knows so much about you, to make a choice instead of you. We think that soon enough devices will be connected to other devices, people would meet and communicate, everyone and everything would be intercommunicated and that’s great, for new people bring new ideas and inspiration.
Today we should focus on new mechanisms and technics that would totally change the order things work and turn all the industries on its head. We need to rethink voice interfaces and create Angry Birds of our time.
What’s coming soon
Games/Entertainment is the most popular category among all the voice assistants today. Therefore, we at Just AI think, that this is one of the most promising areas. There are already a lot of quite interesting and highly lucrative skills and projects. For example, there’s a skill that will make you the master of Call of Duty — you get personalized player recommendations, notifications about in-game achievements and tips on how to improve your skills. Another example: some tech-savvy startups integrate voice assistants with traditional entertainment like board games — a great example here is Alexa-powered game St. Noire, created by X2Games and Sensible Object.
Another illustration of a brilliant idea embodied in a voice skill is this fully immersive Amazon Alexa game that allows fans to navigate Westworld using their voice only:
In fact, Amazon knows pretty well that success is wrapped up in the integration capability and since the day Amazon Echo was released, the company works actively towards that end. Not that long ago the company teamed up with the largest game developer’s community GDC. Now developers can create voice-first games with Alexa through special tools and these games will reach customers through tens of millions of Alexa devices. Furthermore, during CES 2019 tech giants like Razer, Sony, Lenovo, and others have unveiled that they will be integrating Amazon Alexa’s voice skills into their products. Such as gaming peripherals, smart tablets, noise-canceling headphones, and even intelligent toilets.
It’s not that easy to predict confidently which exact skill would become entirely novel and influential. For sure there will be breakout methods and technics that would make voice interaction a real sensation, there will be something that only voice assistants can do and only voice platforms can deliver. That’s a given gaming and educational skills will be on top, not least because young people are the early adopters. Games and fun, language teaching and training, math and coding — all those skills will have clout in the nearest future and all the major brands expect considerable growth in these areas.
We’re moving towards user interfaces that become progressively natural to use, and this is the most significant thing. Interaction design that combines voice commands, sweeping gestures, and virtual screens is something that we see in the movies and we believe that this is a future way to interact with a digital world. Imagine all the ways this interaction may simplify daily routine and business tasks; or how beneficial this technology may be for people with reduced capabilities. Voice UI is another big step towards the great digital experiences, where the line between the human mind and machine is blurring.