Future of empowered voices
Moving towards screenless future generates innovation and new business models. What your voice can do tomorrow? The ability to give directions to a digital assistant with voice has opened new avenues to a touchless world. Sounds used in their many forms will be an integral part of the touchless world and will improve the efficiency and quality of experience.
Gartner group predicts that by 2019, 20% of smartphone interactions will be done via voice and by 2020, a ‘majority of devices will be designed to function with minimal or zero touch’. Most of the tech giants are increasingly involved in the evolution of the industry which is estimated to garner a revenue of $1.5 billion by 2024 in North America alone. Gone are the days when voice controls on appliances required robotic-sounding commands. Already today, digital assistants can perform tasks and hold simple conversations irrespective of the many different accents across the world. Alexa is expected to soon start recognizing users by their voices. This would enable it to set personal profiles and restrict command access such as shopping to certain voice prints alone. As they grow smarter, the digital assistants will also be able to do back-thinking, multitask and converse with more than one person at a time. The application of such capabilities can spread all the way from household appliances, smart cars, and cloud connected devices at the office or shops.
On its own, voice communication will transform the way people communicate with technology making screens disappear. The release of the Tesla model 3 attests to that. With just one 15-inch screen across the dashboard, the car is a metaphor for the future where self-driving cars would invalidate the need for screen displayed information. The user will speak to the car and it will talk back. This development is even more important for aging population allowing non-tech-savvy elderlies to benefit from digital services through the ease of voice alone. Moreover, as obsessions over screens seem to have affected our ability to communicate and develop language skills, the return of voice-first communication might improve this.
The reliance on voice-first search changes the market dynamics of ad-based revenue infrastructure. Instead of opening Google in a browser, users can activate the search engine simply by “Ok, Google” or “Hello Siri”. Sridhar Ramaswamy, Senior Vice president of advertising and commerce at Google, admits that this trend revamps their model of ad revenue, terming text ads as “a thing of the past.” Given Google’s concern and it’s revamping of its model, it is safe to expect that the industry will follow suit. Hence, other technology giants will formulate ways to increase the revenue potential of voice search systems.
Amazon is looking for ways to embed advertising in their digital assistant Alexa voice searches. Similarly, Amazon Media Group VP Seth Dellaire intimated measures being undertaken to derive profits from Alexa’s voice searches. VoiceLabs recently announced the release of ‘Sponsored messages’ for Alexa customers via which brands can engage with their customers in a form of conversational shopping. Via these messages, companies will be able to tell their brand stories over the course of multiple sessions of conversations. However, the ‘sponsored messages’ pose a threat to the efficiency of a voice-based search. Clearly, playing ads as responses would annoy users. Which is why the marketing industry will have to be smart about how to use the ‘speech time’ they get. This would expect them to either naturalize their ads to make them sound less like paid marketing or, add sounds and tones to make the listening experience more pleasing.
The spread of voice-first searches will impact both home based users and businesses. Given the momentum of this trend, it will be crucial for all market players to prepare themselves in terms of usage and monetizing the voice-search medium. This, in turn, will form a new eco-system of voice based services that creatively emit ads while keeping the listener interested, affecting the latter’s choices and preferences.
The usage of sound or the properties of sound waves is not limited to intelligent digital assistants alone. The microphone market for one is a major player in the market. The industry is estimated to be worth $1.8 billion by 2020. With more emphasis on voice triggered technology, innovators are inventing new ways to make use of sounds. For example, Vesper, along with the University of Michigan, has come up with a microphone that uses an aluminum-nitride film instead of the usual diaphragm. There are many advantages to this. Firstly, the film is incredibly durable and can withstand demanding environments. This makes the microphones more durable and long lasting. Vesper has also managed to harness the electrical energy generated by the bending of the film and uses it to power the microphone. So, the ‘off’ microphone will only turn ‘on’ when a voice’s vibration creates an electrical impulse in the film. This capability would allow the microphones to be listening continuously without bleeding any valuable battery power. Vesper’s microphone has gained a significant fandom already. The company managed to raise $15 million dollars from investors such as Amazon Alexa Fund and Hyperplane amongst others. The creators are very optimistic that the microphones will find their way in all voice-triggered devices of the future.
Another interesting use of sound waves is what LISNR has managed to do with its ‘Smart Tone’ technology. The company can transmit data within sound waves. Hence, every speaker in the world can be used as a data emitter and can also engage in a two-way conversation. As the data transfer works on sound waves alone, it is not dependent on a network or wifi-support. Moreover, besides using very less power, large amounts of data can be transferred in a very small time. This technology has the potential to replace QR codes, NFC tags, and even Bluetooth. The company has managed to raise $14 million as start-up and research funding from different investor capitals and tech funds.
Land Rover is already using Smart Tone technology by making the car communicate with the car inhabitant’s phone and personalizing the car according to their preference. Ticketmaster, the world’s largest ticketing company, has also incorporated the same technology in their ‘Presence’ platform to eliminate paper tickets and to give a more personalized experience to the ticket holder.
Sense of touch
in a virtual world
There seems to be a consensus on AR and VR being the future of technology. In the scenario of the future, it is understandable that some actions would simply be faster by touch. As touchscreens would have become a thing of the past then, sounds waves in the form of haptic feedback can be the solution. Ultrahaptics sees this as the future and has been working on creating this ‘sense of touch’ in midair. The company works with acoustic radiation force along ultrasound speakers that produce sonic energy that is felt by the skin giving a feeling of touch. This can then be programmed to be a communication device between, for example, the user’s hands and a computer system. Different gestures can be programmed to perform different tasks. This revolutionary way to interact has lessons to learn from the previous creed of smart devices like the smart TV. The ‘seeing’ devices failed to become the preferred mode of interaction as they lacked the feeling of touch and seemed more artificial or mechanic. Haptics can be the solution to such experiences, giving the mind the impression of touch while making interaction smoother and hassle free.
The sense of sound will enable a 3D hologram experience. Japanese company Pixie Dust Technologies is working to integrate lasers within the haptic sound range, giving it a 3D hologram aerial interface. The combination of light and haptic sound waves will be the ultimate and essential illusion of touch in our future of augmented realities.
Sound waves can do more than just emit sounds. The many new innovative uses of sound waves will redefine user-computer interaction. It will also increase the efficiency of this interaction, allowing the companies to become closer to the users and vice versa. The future can incorporate these experiments and investors and businesses, recognizing on the interest of tech giants in these advancements, must also be ready to adapt to them.