While voice computing and speech recognition technologies have been around since the early 1960s, it’s the introduction of Apple’s Siri in 2011 that’s widely credited with launching the digital voice assistant revolution. Today, there are several mainstream digital voice assistants available on the market, fueling speech-driven consumer apps and transforming traditional enterprise functions such as customer service and support.
But this is about more than enabling new speech applications and saying goodbye to the keyboard. Digital voice assistants are changing the way we use computers and get information, and therefore having a profound impact on our lives. Below we look at some of the latest innovations making digital voice assistants more natural than ever, as well as the latest updates from today’s established solutions and new entrants.
With an estimated 35 percent market share worldwide, Apple’s Siri is the industry’s most widely used digital voice assistant. Initially unveiled to the world via the iPhone, Siri has continuously progressed in functionality and usability since its introduction nearly 10 years ago. More recently the company is tackling the challenge of robotic-sounding voices—a major hurdle to widespread adoption. Apple in 2017 brought improved natural language processing capabilities to Siri, allowing for more pauses and better intonation and making the app easier to understand. Siri’s developers are also focused on creating a better user experience, marked by the recent launch of a more user-friendly mobile interface with larger icons, as well as improved translation capabilities via its newly launched Translate app.
Originally launched as a smart speaker called Amazon Echo in 2014, today Amazon Alexa is one of the most popular digital voice assistants on the market. Triggered by the “wake word” Alexa, Amazon’s digital voice assistant app is making its way onto devices and into homes around the world, changing the way people get the weather report, find a plumber, and get driving directions—to name just a few use cases. The company recently introduced a hands-free mode for its mobile app for iOS and Android, enabling users to play music, control smart home devices, and set appointment reminders without ever having to touch their mobile phones. To make the voice engagements feel natural, Amazon also recently introduced emotions into the Alexa experience for a more human-like conversation. Pretty cool!
Initially introduced in 2016 and made available on all Android devices in 2016, Google Assistant is another widely popular digital voice assistant known for its ability to enable natural sounding two-way conversations, powered by the Google Duplex feature. Google Assistant allows users to complete a range of tasks with voice-driven commands, including searching the Internet and scheduling events and appointments. More recently, Google added features to assist in home schooling, including the Family Bell feature that can be used to alert children that class is set to begin and recite which lessons are on the agenda. The new homeschooling features also include ways to share facts and information, such as broadcasting an “animal of the day” and assigning a creative task like drawing it or writing about it.
The newest entrant on the market, Huawei recently launched its digital voice assistant called Celia. It offers many of the same features as its more established rivals, including the ability to use voice commands to set alarms, send text messages, check the weather, and more. Some of Celia’s cooler features include AI vision capabilities. For example, a user can scan a piece of fruit and Celia will tell them how many calories they are consuming, or it can scan a product image and find similar products.
Now, in spite of all the progress, digital voice assistants have raised privacy concerns worldwide. In fact, the European Union recently launched a probe into Amazon, Apple, and Google to better understand their impact on competition and how collected data is being used. As digital voice technology continues to advance, you can expect more scrutiny on consumer privacy in the future.
For another perspective, see how digital voice assistants are changing the way customers engage with businesses in this previous Apex of Innovation post.