Why Voice Won't Replace Screen Search

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, February 16, 2017

With more than 30 million voice-first devices expected in U.S. homes before the end of the year, it’s no wonder there is so much buzz about voice, the user interface that will transform how brands and marketers engage with customers.

There’s a lot of talk that companies need to prepare for a world where voice is the primary — or even the only — way consumers will interact with devices, applications and services. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2020, 30% of Web browsing will be done without a screen.

At CES in January, this idea — in the form of Amazon’s Alexa — took center stage.

The idea of voice replacing screen searching has understandably created a frenzy of questions for advertisers. As brands struggle to understand how they participate in this new world without being left behind, it’s important to retain perspective and to create a practical plan.

The next wave of search

There’s no question that voice is playing an increasing role in search. Improvements in natural language processing (NLP) are giving consumers a more natural and personal way to search. Indeed, NLP is at the core of making search “personal.” It’s moving toward a system that allows us to speak and interact in the way that is most natural to us in that moment. Search will be able to understand and respond in that same form.

It's a massive opportunity, with 65% of smartphone owners using voice assistants.

However, voice is just one part of the story. The reality is that voice will often only enhance the screen search experience, and vice-versa, through omni-modality scenarios, not replace it. Plenty of business categories will experience disruption as a result of voice, but for so many more, voice will simply become part of the consumer experience equation.

Why? Because in the old idiom still holds true: “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Most people still rely on the value of visualization to get things done. Seeing is believing, after all — and it will never be completely replaced, even in a voice-led world.

The magic in the middle

The reality is that successful technology companies, including the makers of voice-enabled applications and devices, should be looking to develop experiences that allow for the seamless transition of customer use-case scenarios between a screen and voice services.

I like to call this the “magic in the middle.”

It is this convergence that will unlock the greater potential of what voice can deliver when it comes to completing a task. It’s the ability to start with a voice search, like “find me a blue strappy sandal in size 8” on Alexa or Cortana, and then transition that to screen for viewing.

Or, what if you need to purchase a suit for that perfect birthday night out on the town? How do you convey every nuance of the style, exact color, cut and dimensions of a suit that you want to purchase using only a voice search?

The truth is that one picture can convey dozens — if not hundreds — of data points that help you answer the question “is this the exact suit I want?” That’s not going away anytime soon.

Yes, voice search is already playing a defining role in this future. But it won’t take over completely. Each new shift in search technology builds on the past, and adds a new level of intelligent experiences.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so don’t count screen search out. It will remain a powerful, and ubiquitous, element. Marketers and advertisers would be well served to build new capabilities for voice search, but not at the expense of their investments on-screen experiences.

Perhaps most exciting is that the future of search will adapt to fit our behaviors, rather than forcing us to adapt.


4 comments about "Why Voice Won't Replace Screen Search ".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Larry Smith from Live Idea, February 17, 2017 at 11:29 a.m.

    The value of voice is not about search, it is about commands -- voice commands. This is when you know what you want and what action to take. Reoder my Gucci shoes. Order Dominos pizza, profile 1 favorites. Send Suzie a text, I am on my way.

  2. R MARK REASBECK from www.USAonly.US , February 17, 2017 at 12:40 p.m.

    And we need all this personal exposure WHY ?????????

  3. Ari Berman from Arkipelago Systems, February 18, 2017 at 7:22 a.m.

    Larry has it right. Commands are king when it comes to Voice Recogniction on devices.  It is a much shorter list of recognizable items and less prone to errors of ambiguity, idioms and regioinality.
    Talking to the refrigerator at home may work for simple tasks (maybe related to the refrigerator), but driving down the road with the windows open, the kids screaming in the back and the radio blasting is just not going to work out well at all and that sort of more critital application is more to the point of what is needed.  Drivers need to locate food or gas stations, doctors need to use diagnostic assistance or patient data, engineers need to price materials and on and on.  These are detail oriented internet and intranet tasks and prone to noisey non-related content needing to be sorted out..... by hand.
    Without manual filtration, much of real world internet requrests will garner wrong results, pushed advertising noise or pornographic results - none which help save time getting the real job done.

  4. John Cosley from Microsoft replied, March 1, 2017 at 11:30 a.m.

    Thanks Larry. You do make a good distinction here, that when it comes to task completion not all voice interactions are about search. Commands can be search or non-search related. In this piece I was focusing on those that were search-related (i.e. "I like my Gucci shoes but show me a different style in brown" vs. "reorder my favorite Gucci shoes"). For an agent or assistant to truely fulfill its value prop, it needs to handle both types of requests. A good clarification I could have included.

Next story loading loading..