Would voice be the next screen? General / Mobile

It was February 11, 2011. In Finland, February was record-breaking cold, and people were saying that it was a winter like that of old times. That it was.

At the same time, it was warm in Barcelona—almost 15 Celsius degrees—and there was excitement and heat in the air. Nokia was holding an event in which the company was expected to announce new phones, including a new flagship model that was anticipated to be a competitor for the iPhone.

Many fans and Finns were waiting for something even more special. The bravest Nokia fans predicted that the company would announce a phone with a hologram screen. These predictions were based on the fact that, about a year ago, Nokia had started a partnership with Intel that looked into 3D holographic technology, in which the focus was on the Meego operating system (OS). In several interviews and speeches, Marko Ahtisaari had even hinted about Nokia’s “heads-up” approach to the user experience.

The phone with hologram technology, however, was not published. Instead, Nokia announced that they would switch to using the Windows smartphone OS, and the company later released the N9, which was the last (and only) Meego OS phone. Even today, there are no phones with a hologram display, and the heads-up approach to the user experience in smart devices seems mostly like a joke or a distant dream. Instead, the time spent on a variety of mobile devices and screens has increased, and, as a result, neck and shoulder problems have increased.

Even though a phone with a hologram screen has not yet arrived, Marko Ahtisaari’s description of the heads-up user experience may be closer than we think.

In the background, there has been an increase in the development of speech recognition and virtual assistants. For example, Amazon launched Echo in the market over several stages, beginning in November 2014. Now, the device can be found in an estimated four million households in the United States. Initially, the device was considered futile, but partly because of the popularity of the device, Google published a similar device about a month ago called Google Home.

Amazon Echo and Google Home are both Bluetooth speakers that are able to identify speech and perform functions on the basis of voice commands. For instance, they can be used to check the weather or the daily news, to change the currently played song, or even to buy products from Amazon* (*although this function not exist doesn’t work in Google Home yet). These technologies are a little bit like the smartphone’s virtual assistants: Apple’s Siri, Microsoft Corona, or Google Now.

If the development of chatbots is combined with the development of speech recognition and virtual assistants, will voice commands be the next way to control devices? If so, audio content will become much more important.

In a few years, over half of the searches in search engines could be done via voice commands. Already, 25% of searches performed using the Windows 10 taskbar are voice searches; in Android devices, 1 in 5 mobile-app searches in the US are voice searches, and share is also growing.

At the moment, the key players in the development of speech recognition and virtual assistants are Amazon and Google. Google is even rumored to be offering their voice assistant to third-party audio hardware developers  to get more users for the assistant, which will help it to learn faster and become smarter.

Apple is certainly another good contender to keep an eye on. In connection with the new iPhone launch, many people were disappointed because the headphone jack is no longer included in the phone. Instead, Apple is doing everything possible to get consumers to use Apple’s AirPod headset, which has a microchip, potentially allowing in the future headphones to operate in the same way as Amazon Echo and Google Home.

What does this mean for the marketer? It is difficult to say what it will look like over time. However, it is possible to guess that voice ads will be included in virtual assistants, and, probably, audio ads and content will become more important. It is certain that we will be increasingly connected to the Internet in the future, and not only when our hands are free to use smart devices.

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