Ben Holliday

The tipping point for voice activated services

Yesterday was Rebecca‘s birthday (that’s Mrs Holliday). Amongst the other presents was an Amazon Echo (Dot). It’s fair to say my 3 daughters did well to keep this a secret as they were so excited about it.

We were staying with some friends back in October who had an ‘Alexa’ and the children were instantly sold. They just immediately got the potential of technology they could talk to – for them, a seamless way to play music and answer their questions.

My first thought was these devices are an adult that will never ignore them, or say ‘no’ to what they ask for (within reason) – what’s not to like if you’re 3, 6, or 8 years old.

Setting this up in our own home yesterday was a positive experience. A genuinely fast and intuitive setup. With that in mind, I gave up on Siri pretty early on when it arrived on the iPhone. The echo voice recognition seems to be much better than that early iPhone experience.

Overall, the Echo’s only limits are that it’s not magic, even though our children perceive it to be so. Talking to children about design always makes me wonder what might the future look like if we spent more time believing in magic like they do. Explaining to them that it can’t turn the lights on and off was the most difficult conversation – like most households the lights in our house are (still) analogue.

The tipping point

So I’m calling it now. The tipping point is here for voice activated services – with Christmas 2016 just around the corner and many devices like the echo filling stockings around the developed world.

It’s not a radical view. The media is acknowledging this, such as this Guardian article yesterday: ​Has voice control finally started speaking our language​?

My (not so bold) predictions:

  • We’re going to be increasingly thinking about voice activated services.
  • The screen is slowly going to become more of a secondary consideration for digital teams designing public services.
  • ‘Telephony’ (that’s business speak for ‘telephone’) channels will be indistinguishable from digital. Like most channels they will become seamless rather than things that businesses treat as separately designed, managed or ‘owned’.
  • To make all this happen, content design will have to become more of a recognised and important skill set in digital delivery.

In my mind, the smart home is only a small part of the picture for voice activated services. The potential to open up services through conversation rather than a graphical interface is much greater.

The technology is finally “just good enough” and smart devices are going to get better, fast. Most of all, this is now mainstream.

The learning starts here.

Footnote – For those of us that grew up in the 1980’s, it turns out that Knightrider really did invent the future.

This is my blog where I’ve been writing for 18 years. You can follow all of my posts by subscribing to this RSS feed. You can also find me on Bluesky, less frequently now on X (formally Twitter), and on LinkedIn.