Voice input and connected devices are changing how people interact with software and each other, altering our notions of UX Design.

If you grew up watching Star Trek you saw Captain Kirk speaking directly to his ship. Not only did he give the ship commands, but the ship would speak back.

While at the time this seemed a far-flung future (circa stardate 2300), these types of interactions have already arrived. Today’s homes are being equipped with connected devices that adjust the temperature and lock the door at the sound of your voice. The traditional experience of toggling switches is quickly becoming a part of history.

Proliferation of Voice

I adopted voice interaction technology in the early 2000’s. Suffering from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome from using a mouse, I purchased Dragon’s Naturally Speaking software to dictate to my computer. It was not the easiest thing to use. I found it was faster to use keyboard shortcuts and a trackball mouse than this software.

Fast forward a decade and mainstream voice recognition apps like Siri and Shazam came on the scene. When Apple acquired Siri in 2010, it brought widespread attention to the burgeoning voice input market. Today the big players in the market include:

  • Microsoft – Cortana
  • Google – Google Now
  • Amazon – Alexa
  • Apple – Siri
  • Samsung – Bixby

Google reports that voice searches have increased by 35X since 2008:

Google search queries

Growing the Echo System

If you think voice search is a fad, think again. Amazon is doubling down on voice searches in the home after the great success of their Amazon Echo product. They continue to iterate the device in different shapes and sizes that reach the market at varying price points.

Recently, Amazon added the Echo Show that includes a built-in screen to provide visual results from voice queries to the device. It also doubles as a communication device that allows you to meet with predetermined family and friends by speaking their name. Many see this as the key feature that will make it as a common as the landline phone was in the last century.

The numbers behind amazon echo

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things, or IoT, is another technology that’s gaining adoption. According to Wikipedia,

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people that are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.”

The IoT is becoming pervasive. It’s being featured in fitness trackers, smart watches and in homes with connected thermostats, doorbells and lighting systems.

Many voice activated devices, like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, work with these IoT gadgets. You can tell Google to get the house ready for bed and it will lock the door, turn off the lights and set the thermostat to 68 degrees.Like voice, the IoT creates a whole new way for users to interact with devices and each other. And in the case of the IoT, many of these interactions are taking place based on proximity and not explicit instructions. The reliance on systems that are intelligently designed with multiple contingencies will continue to rise.

A graph showing IoT connected devices from 2015-2025

The User Experience is Changing

Our interactions with devices has remained static over the past couple of decades, but new tools like voice search and the IoT will continue to change and challenge what is considered a good user experience.

Search results are a good example of this. While Google has had many products and projects, they are primarily a search company. They make their money by serving ads on search engine results pages. But what happens when people stop going to these pages? What if instead of typing a question, they ask their voice assistant a question? This change in the user experience is an existential threat to Google. They either need to adapt to the new way of doing things or lose their primary source of income.

Keeping Pace with the Market

Like Google, it is imperative for your business to understand how these new technologies change not only the user experience, but also user expectations. The shift companies made from using traditional mail and phone calls to websites and email impacted both company and customers alike in a huge way. The IoT and voice integration are the next big shift—and its impact will be unlike anything before.

Will your users be satisfied with your service if they cannot access your support through their voice activated device? Will they remain a promoter when they feel there is an increased effort to use your product over your competitors?

There is a need for people to understand and account for these new technologies to keep the user experience on par with the marketplace. And as new generations take these interactions for granted it is essential that modern companies keep pace with the challenges and opportunities afforded by voice interaction and the internet of things.