🗣Digital assistants: What’s the big deal?

 

By 2021 digital assistants are expected to outnumber people.  In America a massive 35.6 million Americans are expected to use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month. This represents an increase of 129% over last year. According to a study by Grand View Research the intelligent virtual assistant market worth $3.07Bn by 2020. Voice has become a trend too big to ignore, especially when it comes to digital assistants, but what’s deal?

voice devices

A frictionless and natural medium

We are living in an increasingly digital and connected world, which has had consequences on our expectations and exchanges. Today we live in the moment, place great importance on experience and expect instant gratification. Voice reduces friction on any transaction or goal we want users to hit: no time lost typing out a long question or researching, voice is quick and easy and digital assistants give instant results.

Furthermore, voice is one of our primary and most natural methods of communication, making voice a natural interface for humans. Speaking does not normally require a lot of cognitive or mechanical exertion, neither does listening to the response. In fact, a recent study found that 50% less brain activity occurs when processing an answer delivered by voice, meaning people find it much easier to use. Got a question about your agenda, fancy ordering a takeaway or want to know what the traffic is like, you just need to ask! Digital assistants are transforming how we search for information, they even have the potential to disrupt web browsers, this perhaps explains why Google is investing so much in Google Home!

Endless opportunities for third party developers

By working with third party developers, digital assistants are able to even further extend their scope. Both Amazon and Google recently announced financial incentives to encourage developers to build apps for their respective assistants, meaning the possibilities of what can be done with a digital assistant is expanding constantly. For example, connected vacuums from Neato allow you to start or pause their autonomous vacuums using the Amazon Echo.  The fact that digital assistants can be integrated with a smart home takes their practicalness to a whole new level! The devices are useful for the whole family, and are changing our views on machines, widening access and making them an integral part of our lives.

Digital assistants and business

Digital assistants are disrupting our world, from how we shop and interact with our favourite brands, to how we drive our cars and organise our agendas. Consequently, more and more businesses are wanting to harness the power of digital assistants, not only to improve internal procedures through saving time and enhancing human ability, but also to expand their customer base, interact with their own customers, wherever they are and improve customer experience. For example, Virgin Active has recently become the first gym to integrate Amazon Alexa, meaning that gym go-ers can book their next gym class from the comfort of their sofa. Furthermore, Domino’s Pizza recently achieved break out sales, which it partly attributes to it’s Alexa Skill!

 

dominos

In addition, a recent study found that voice technology drives greater emotional connection with brands, driving engagement and creating deeper relationships between consumers and brands.

Innovation a go-go

The market space is fierce, with tech giants pulling out all the stops to create the most comprehensive digital assistant. Both Google and Amazon have announced their new proactive assistant features, in addition to hands free calling and visual responses. Irrelevant of the company making them, this is great news for the AI industry, powering innovation and creating a booming ecosystem, and further underlines the position of voice as the main medium for human to machine interaction. Voice is our most natural interface and technology is finally exploiting this.

🔊Notifications on voice assistants: Awesome or annoying?

Both Amazon and Google have recently announced proactive notifications for their respective connected devices. Instead of simply reacting to your demands, they will be able to light up when they have something to say. Awesome or, well, just plain annoying? Let’s investigate…

Notifications on voice assistants: Awesome or annoying

Notifications a go-go

We have all had the feeling of being harassed by our telephone when a multitude of application notifications flood in, so we can understand that you are perhaps rolling your eyes at the prospect of another device hassling you! However, the proactive notifications on both of the speakers will not be that intrusive; Google Home will simply light up, and Alexa will chime and light up, and both will only speak when prompted.

If done right and in the appropriate context, proactive notifications could be highly practical, for example, a cooking app could tell you when your water was boiling, you could be alerted to set off to your meeting earlier due to traffic issues or your car could tell you when you are low on gas… However, proactive voice notifications on assistants raise several issues. While notifications on a smartphone can be treated in a glance, listening to your digital assistant reel off a number of notifications is less practical. Amazon’s Echo Show is equipped with a screen, which could overcome this issue. However, this feature poses others concerns, for example, often users have more than one device, therefore, should the notifications be sent to all? Furthermore, most digital assistant owners are out during the day, so how should developers create the experience so users don’t feel bombarded when they return home and that users who are around the device all the time still find the feature useful? Google and Amazon will have to carefully consider how notifications are rolled out to make sure the devices don’t drive users crazy!

So, how exactly are they going to do it?

Google is keeping things uncomplicated to begin with. The device will light up (no sound) when it has a notification and, when prompted by the user saying “what’s up”, will give news regarding reminders, flight changes, traffic delays ahead of upcoming appointments.

“We’re going to start simple, with really important messages like reminders, traffic delays and flight status changes,” said Rishi Chandra, Google’s vice president of product management, on stage at I/O 2017. “With multiple user support, you will have the ability to control the type of proactive notifications you want over time.”

It appears that Google is playing it safe and ensuring it gets it right before elaborating the feature.

Psst: Did we mention how excited we are about Google Home coming to France this summer!

Amazon on the other hand is expanding notifications to all skills. Notifications on Echo devices and third party Alexa devices will be at the discretion of the developer that builds the skill and it has not been confirmed if Amazon will limit the number of notifications the developer wants to send. All notifications will be opt in and triggered by the user saying “Alexa, what did I miss today?” or “Alexa, what are my notifications?”. Amazon also stated that there will be the possibility of temporarily suppressing all notifications by employing the “do not disturb mode”.

Long road ahead

It’s still early days for proactive notifications, but clearly lots of challenges lie ahead for both of these Internet giants in order to fine tune this feature. While notifications can be useful for certain types of apps, for example breaking news, this capability can be exploited, as is often the case with push notifications. For example, news apps enable users to opt in for all or nothing notifications for breaking news and then push notifications for events that are not urgent. It will be interesting to see how developers expand this feature in the future, however, if they get it wrong, we might see a couple of devices thrown out of windows 😉

🌍 Google Home is coming to France: Why should you be excited?

Google recently announced its plans for the geographical expansion of Google Home. Among the countries in Google’s roadmap for this summer is France . Given that we have been flying the French flag for vocal technology since 2012, this announcement generated a lot of excitement at Smarty.AI’s HQ in Paris!

Here is a little video demo of Google Home:

International aspirations with an AI first strategy

Although no exact date was given for the release date in the 4 countries, it looks likely that the voice assistant will be arriving in summer time! This could indeed be a clever move by Internet giant. Alexa won the race to the US market and consequently won the lion’s share of the market and grew an established base of developers. Therefore, being the first AI assistant in France, Japan, Australia and Canada could prove very fruitful for Google Home.

US market voice assistant breakdown

US market voice assistant breakdown

The international expansion was announced at Google I/O, where CEO, Sundar Pichai, also detailed the company’s new strategy to progress from a mobile first to an artificial intelligence and machine learning first company. The aim is to enable digital assistants to anticipate user needs and understand sights and sounds in ways that were previously not possible on a huge scale.

New and improved features

Google I/O was also the occasion to reveal a number of new and improved features coming to Google Home were also announced, including:

Visual responses

The device will soon be able to send visual responses to televisions and phones. Google Home will consider the information being sent before choosing the destination device. For example, if you want directions, the best place to receive them is on your phone. However, if you require the latest weather report or information on your agenda, the visuals would be sent to your television.

Google Home visual responsesGoogle Home visual responses

Proactive assistant

Google Home will be able to think ahead for you by looking at your agenda and personal data. At the beginning this feature will be used for simple, but important things (reminders, flight changes, traffic…), and then developed further.

Notifications on voice assistants: Awesome or annoying? What do you think?

Free hands free calling

This feature was announced for US and Canada, and will enable a user to call any mobile or landline without requiring any setup! Home’s ability to identify multiple voices means it can figure out non-proper names like “Mum”. Users will have the option to call using a private number or their mobile number. Admittedly, this feature would have generated more buzz if Amazon hadn’t previously announced that Alexa can also do calls. However, Alexa is limited to device to device or device to app. Google is using its infrastructure and know how from Google Voice to make calling a frictionless hands-free process.

Improved entertainment support

In addition to Spotify’s music service, Google Home will soon support other popular music platforms including Deezer and SoundCloud. Plus, in addition to being currently able to stream Netflix, YouTube and Google Photos to televisions, Google Home will now support even more entertainment services, notably HBO Now and Hula.

And not forgetting developers

The Alphabet Inc unit also used its I/O developer conference to announce that, similar to how Amazon has done with the Alexa platform, it has opened the entire Google Assistant API to developers meaning that they can create their own voice commands and responses that can control the local device. The Google Assistant API will spread the Voice First platform to numerous new devices, appliances, automobiles and other products. Manufacturers will also be able to a “Google Assistant Building-in” logo and registry. Conference go-ers were offered a Google Home speaker and $700 worth of credits for its cloud-computing service. Google hopes this will encourage developers to build and test new voice-based apps (known as Actions on Google) for Google Assistant.

The digital assistant race

Although Amazon’s Alexa has a long head start, it seems that Google is catching up. The company is clearly pulling out all the stops to gain market share. However, the race is far from over, and let’s not forget Apple and Microsoft’s AI assistants, as well as the Orange’s recent announcement of Djingo, France’s first home grown assistant! Either way, its imminent arrival in France is great news for our AI scene and could be a critical move for increasing adoption in Europe! Vive l’innovation 😎