The term voice search is a speech recognition technology that allows users to search by voice command by saying terms out loud to search the internet, or a portable device, rather than going to a search engine for example Google or Bing where the user has to type in a search term.  In recent years we have seen the rise of smart phones and the applications they are using that effect our everyday lives personally and on a business level.  Smart phones and smart speaker devices have driven a strong interest in voice search.

Voice Search Statistics

  • 50% of interactions will be voice activated by 2020
  • About 30% of all searches will be done without a screen by 2020
  • June 2018 – iProspect surveyed 1,181 adults in the UK on their current voice search behaviours
  • The study found 15% use voice search to engage with a device – Smart Speakers (Hub), Smartphones and laptops
  • Voice is already influencing googles search marketing strategies whereby web designers, developers and search experts are having to optimise their websites to accommodate voice search medium.
  • Google polled 3,000 consumers that revealed two thirds say they are using voice search more.
  • 45% believe voice search is the future
  • 83% agree voice search is more user friendly
  • 57% say they would use voice search more if it recognised more complex searches

Smart Speaker Device Virtual Assistant

A smart speaker is a voice command device with an integrated virtual assistant.

What Are The Benefits Of A Smart Speaker?

A smart speaker offers the user an interactive handsfree experience, it is activated by a “hot word”.  One of the first smart speaker devices is called Amazon Echo which was released to the U.S. public back in 2014, two years later it was launched in the U.K.

The virtual assistant integrated with Amazons smart devices is called Amazon Alexa.  To activate the echo the hot word is “Alexa”.  Alexa can answer your questions, follow your instructions and control your smart home devices.  As of January 2018 there are 31 million Echo users in the U.S.  If you are a fan of science fiction, Alexa was inspired by the computer voice of the infamous Starship Enterpise TV series originating back to the era of the 70’s.

Global Smart Speaker Sales (Q1 2018)

  • US – 45.6%
  • China – 20%
  • Korea 8.1%
  • Rest of the world – 26.3%

Source: Canalys

Smart Speaker UK YouGov Poll

Smart speaker ownership among Britons has doubled in the last 6 months

What do Smart Speaker Owners Use Their Device For?

  • 71% – To play music
  • 58% – Answer general questions
  • 49% – Set alarms/reminders
  • 47% – Live news/weather updates
  • 34% – Interact with other smart devices
  • 20% – Record memos/lists
  • 17% – Sync with calendar/schedule
  • 9% – Order products online
  • 7% – Read audiobooks
  • 7% – Games
  • The Amazon Echo Dot was the best-selling product on all of Amazon in the 2018 holiday season

A Closer Look at Amazon Echo (2nd Generation)

The Features

“Amazon Echo connects to Alexa-a cloud-based voice service-to play music, make calls, set alarms and timers, ask questions, check your calendar, weather, traffic and sports scores, manage to-do and shopping lists, control compatible smart home devices, and more.

Just ask for a song, artist or genre from Amazon Music, Spotify, TuneIn and more. With multi-room music, you can play music on Echo devices in different rooms, available for Amazon Music, TuneIn and Spotify; Bluetooth not supported. Echo can also play audiobooks, radio stations, news briefings and more.

Call or message anyone hands-free who also has an Echo device or the Alexa App. Also, quickly connect to other Echo devices in your home using just your voice.

New speaker with Dolby processing that fills the room with immersive, 360° omnidirectional audio, and delivers crisp vocals, deep bass, and clear highs at louder volumes.

With seven microphones, beam-forming technology and noise cancellation, Echo hears you from any direction-even while music is playing.

Just ask Alexa to control your compatible smart lights, switches, TVs, thermostats and more

Alexa is always getting smarter and adding new features and skills. Just ask Alexa to request an Uber, order a pizza, get train times, and more.”

What Is an Alexa Skill?

Alexa is Amazon’s voice service and the brain behind tens of millions of devices like the Echo family of devices, Fire TV, Fire Tablet, and third-party products with built-in access to Alexa. Alexa provides capabilities, or skills, that enable customers to create a more personalized experience. There are now tens of thousands of cloud-based skills from brands like The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Universal Studios, and Uber as well as individual designers and developers.

Essential skills for your new Amazon Echo speaker

  • Skill Finder: Find more skills
  • Plex: Manage your media
  • TrackR: Find your phone
  • Hive: Control your heating
  • Nest: Control your lights
  • Control your Uber: Call for a ride
  • 7-Minute Workout: Get a guide workout
  • Spotify: The best for music streaming
  • Wake up to your favourite song
  • Control your whole home entertainment set-up
  • BBC: All the latest news
  • Sky Sports: Never miss a goal
  • National Rail: Get train updates
  • Google Calendar: Arrive at your appointments on time
  • Control Fire TV with your Echo

Google Home

This smart speaker device “Google home” series is integrated with “Google Assistant” as it tries to gain its market share behind Amazon Alexa its main competitor.  As of January 2018 there were 14 million users of Google home in the U.S.

Google home has many similar functions to Amazon Alexa.

Various forms of both in-house and third-party services are integrated into Google Home, allowing users to speak voice commands to control interaction with them. Examples of supported services include Google Play Music, Spotify and iHeartRadio for audio, Netflix, YouTube and Google Photos for videos and photos, Google Calendar and Google Keep for tasks, and CNN, CNBC and The Wall Street Journal for news updates. New services are integrated on an ongoing basis.

Apple Home Pod

The Home Pod brings to the table outstanding sound quality integrated with Siri voice that is highly accurate which syncs with Apple Music.  Apple Home Pod was released to the UK public in June 2018.  The Home Pod initially received mixed reviews.

The Audio Technology Behind Home Pod

  • High-excursion woofer with custom amplifier
  • Array of seven horn-loaded tweeters, each with its own custom amplifier
  • Six-microphone array for far‑field Siri
  • Internal low-frequency calibration microphone for automatic bass correction
  • Direct and ambient audio beamforming
  • Transparent studio-level dynamic processing
  • Stereo pair capable

The Smart Speaker Privacy Debate

Firstly, internet users are now becoming more savvy understanding how their personal data is being used and stored.  There has been an increase in ad-blocking on internet browsers.

We have seen more recently how social media network companies have been in front of U.S. congress and the E.U. parliament explaining how they handle and store their users data.  A well-documented case was how Cambridge Analytica took advantage of Facebook members personal data.

The question is can users be confident in the big tech companies and the responsibilities they have to protect the individual.  One can change the security and privacy settings for Amazon, Google and Apple smart speakers.  Note it is worth reading the terms of service (privacy policies) for each manufacturer.

Voice search is becoming more common place and users will adapt in a positive way to embrace this technology as the digital lifestyle around us evolves in years to come.


Author: Ollie Keates

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