Voice AI 2020 Predictions from 46 Voice Industry Pros -

Voice AI 2020 Predictions from 46 Voice Industry Pros -
Today we start a new year and a new decade. The past decade has in many ways been about the dominance of mobile followed by the rise of voice assistants. The decade started with the launch of the Siri app in the iOS App Store and concluded with more than three billion voice assistants in use worldwide.

What is ahead of us for the first year of the second decade of voice assistants? Voicebot reached out to over 40 voice industry professionals to get their predictions for 2020. They range from the rise of sonic branding and new architectures for voice assistants to the increasing importance of hearables and voice in the car. There are also predictions about the first hundred million dollar voice apps.

There is a lot of depth in here with so many experts weighing in. So, in the spirit of TLDR, we have included a word cloud of the responses below.

In 2020 well see more and more brands incorporating sonic branding into their overall marketing strategies, with Alexa Skills and Google Actions becoming more popular. It will be interesting to see how companies will build brand trust with voice technologies that arent quite fully trusted yet, and I predict that the use of the human voice will be a big factor in building that trust. Not only is there a preference for human voices in voice technology, but a human voice also increases information retention.

Katie McMahon, SoundHound

The love affair we have with hardware design will migrate to a love affair of Voice Interface Design. Although I doubt a Jony Ive of Voice will emerge within 2020, I predict that by the end of this decade, we will know the names of a few revered VUI designers. It will be those who can design the future by understanding both its current technical limitations and trajectory while harnessing anthropological, sociological, and humanity-first guiding principles.

There will be more surprising acquisitions in 2020 similar to Apples acquisition of Pullstring and as a handful of B2B enabling platforms breakout of the pack. Look to Amazon, Google, Salesforce, Apple, Adobe and others to compete for technology and talent. I think well see a major retailer make a big play in voice in 2020 and I wouldnt be surprised to see custom naming for devices hit one of the big two (you know who they are) in a future release. And, of course, VOICE Summit will be a blast.

In 2020, having a voice presence will start to be a strategic and business differentiator for companies. We are moving beyond voice as a side innovation project to it being a first-class citizen on the same level as social, mobile and web. Companies who have or will soon establish a voice presence will start to reap the business benefits over laggards, much like what happened with the web and mobile.

It feels like the voice groundswell is approaching land and executives can begin to see the shape of the conversational experience wave. This in concert with other developments like the maturity of voice assistants, the emergence of voice commerce as a real topic, and a growing ecosystem voice solutions and agencies leads me to believe that 2020 is going to see a noticeable increase of formal voice strategy and inclusion in customer journey maps.

A focus on voice search will dominate in 2020. Organizations will seek new opportunities to tap the power of virtual assistants and conversational AI to help consumers to discover and engage more fully with their brands through next-generation SEO and conversational calls to action.

Discoverability is the key issue holding the ecosystem back from realizing the potential that voice experiences offer. Even with the encouraging market penetration of voice platforms, consumers are for the most part unaware of what voice can do. I do not believe voice platform vendors, voice experience developers, or businesses can solve this problem in isolation. I predict an independent third party will attack this issue with a platform that brings together consumers, vendors, developers, and businesses to provide shared value and incentives to cross the chasm.

Key areas of concern for voice apps on assistants are convenience, context, memory, personalization, monetization, retention, and discoverability. With millions of owners of smart speakers, 2020 will be the year that a significant advancement will be made in discoverability and these owners will start consuming these voice apps.

First, the main challenge to 3rd Party developers and also to brands is the challenge of discovery. How do consumers become aware of their Action, Skill, Capsule (or whatever other non-specific name other companies decide to call what is really a voice app)? Until this gets solved and solved consistently, we wont see mass adoption of the medium by big players.

Matt Ware, First

As much as the onus does sit with these brands to self promote, Google, Amazon and Co need to pick a path and stick with it. Consumers have become used to having the right tool put in front of them at the right time. Implicit Invocation was the obvious path to continue this trend. However, that seems to be getting wound back in favor of recommendation at signup or fulfillment of the required task without the user knowing which Skill or Action did the heavy lifting. This year Discovery will be a focus for the ecosystem owners as they try to find a way to achieve the balance between wanting to own the whole user experience 1st Party and needing 3rd Party information and functions to actually deliver the service or item.

Second, Asia pulls away from the US and Europe with Voice. Asia is already seeing explosive growth is Smart Speaker shipments and development across the three main players (Xiaomi, Baidu and Alibaba). Population, funding, acceptance of digital payments and a friendly government environment will see this growth continue along with their dominance. The main battlegrounds will be South East Asia, India, Africa, and Australia. In all of these locations, there is less opposition to Asian technologies and large existing ex-pat Chinese populations happy to bring their preferred assistant of choice with them. While there is still the opportunity for growth in the U.S. and Europe, its Asia where there is money to be made.

Tim McElreath, Discovery Inc

Assistants will move from intent classification and named-entity recognition, which is a manual and rigid process, and they will becomemore sophisticated, learning from examples and moving past the limitations imposed by mapping every message to one intent. The representation of state and context will be learned from the data itself, letting the users teach the assistants things that were not anticipated and making the assistants able to understand and respond to unexpected inputs.

Were going to see the rise of intent-less voice app structures that will make transactional use cases, like voice commerce, far more effective.

The rise of a new domain-centric development model for third-parties. The initial wave of voice was based around an app-centric model. This made sense, as the analogies and onramps for developers coming from mobile and web were so easy to make. But domains make more sense for users. Domains are top-level intents with third-party fulfillment. It also means that users are defining functional boundaries, not developers or product designers. Finally, it means discovery is moot. Forget about tricks and gambits to make users memorize and chant invocation names. Instead, builders must discover users where they are, in users natural expressions and requests.

To effect this expeditiously, the platforms must provide a way to bring third-parties in on top-level intents fairly and transparently. And third-parties must take users as they come with a myriad of queries and commands that may not fit neatly into their existing app-centric way of thinking.

In 2020, voice assistants will start to perfect the invocationless open of an app. This will happen because once Samsung fully releases Bixby, it will start to gain popularity and will spread to the other platforms. Voices will also start to sound more human. It is clear that people respond better to a less robotic a voice. It follows that the engineers at Samsung, Amazon and Google would focus energy on that.

Tom Hewitson,

2020 will be the year that the voice app ecosystem starts to make significant money. A combination of improved tools from the platforms and a greater focus on creating real value by developers will finally convince consumers to start parting with their hard-earned cash. Were unlikely to see the first voice app unicorn in the next 12 months but perhaps well spot a couple of multi-hundred hoof-prints pointing the way.

Competition will tighten among major tech companies for developer attention, leading to heightened investment and accelerated feature development over the course of 2020 for Alexa, Google Assistant, Bixby, and Siri.

The continued rise of voice commerce, specifically non-obvious ways voice removes pinch points in the customer journey. Voice commerce doesnt always have to be at the last mile of the transaction but can have a very valuable part to play in the customer decision journey influencing the transaction.

As with any new channel, user acquisition, discovery, and monetization can be challenges. For Voice Assistants to continue to take off, and more users and enterprises to adopt them, I am hopeful the ecosystem continues to evolve and more opportunities for user acquisition, discovery and monetization come forward. As the ecosystem evolves, and enterprises see the value in Voice Assistants, hopefully, more initiatives move from innovation teams to business units in the coming year. We are still relatively early in the space and it is exciting to see the new use cases that emerge.

The rise of Domain Specific Voice Assistants. Products will start having natural language voice assistants on board, without privacy concerns or internet connections. Chip companies will announce a number of AI chips that support this at a cost that can be used in IoT, home appliances, and other consumer products.

Carl Robinson, Voice Tech Podcast

Voice AI on the edge for low-resourced IoT devices will come to the fore, with many more devices avoiding the cloud for both privacy and performance reasons. In addition, biometric authentication and emotion recognition will transform how we use voice assistants. We can look forward to using any smart speaker in the world with reduced friction and more relevant responses.

Apple will also launch some kind of voice skills, but they will be over-regulated and limited in performance. Unfortunately, Apple will continue to lag behind the other platforms. Hearables and voice-enabled wearables will be the catalyst for much greater usage and a wider variety of use cases, as mobile is inherently hands-free. Phone-zombies may even start to disappear!

The availability of Alexa and Google Assistant tightly integrated into fully connected vehicles will begin to achieve critical mass in 2020 and will accelerate the use of voice assistants by the masses. The writing is on the wall and all stakeholders including car manufacturers, voice assistant platforms, radio broadcasters, streaming services, and brands will need a conversational AI strategy in order to win in this paradigm shift.

Despite some predictions of a slowdown, the average daily usages of voice assistants will grow considerably more in 2020 than any previous year. This will be largely driven by the use of devices in automobiles and wearables mostly earbuds.

Assistants widespread in cars.

One of the breakout hits in the voice space for 2020 and beyond will be voice-activated rings, starting with the Echo Loop. Alexa users will appreciate the ability to use Alexa anytime, anywhere without having to have a smart speaker nearby, or headphones in their ears. I predict that in 2020, Apple will take notice of this new category (voice-activated rings), and begin developing a Siri-compatible ring, which, sometime after 2020, will become an even bigger hit than the Echo Loop.

The tipping point for smart displays has come to pass. By the end of 2020, the most highly-used voice apps (outside of sleep) will include robust, stimulating visual experiences.

Katy Bass, Altavox

2020 has to be the year that Siri opens up a voice marketplace! Many in the industry expected this to happen in 2019. This will help brands and third party developers have a presence on one of the major voice assistants and the leader in the hearables space with AirPods. We may also see Apple announce a new product this year with voice-enabled AR glasses.

A lot more is to be expected from Apple in the coming year. The tech company is already releasing at an accelerated pace new voice commands these last months and I expect them to open up their voice ecosystem to a wider developer community allowing startups to build apps with cutting edge voice-first commands.

Secondly, Apple will launch voice or Siri voice apps. The platform will not be as feature-full as weve seen with Alexa Skills and will be deeply integrated with the existing app store.

Apple will continue to open up Siri for 3rd party skill development, which will raise the prominence of voice as a channel that consumer-focused apps need to operate on.

I think that the biggest breakthroughs within the voice space will be driven by media-based companies that supply content in new formats conducive to voice assistants and their affiliated hardware. Food Network Kitchen will provide a blueprint for how media-companies like Discovery can adapt their content to multi-modal voice devices. Spotify will help to shape the way we think about how voice assistants can work in conjunction with music and podcasting and will blaze a trail of new ways to access and share said content. I also think well see hearables continue to play a prominent role within the voice ecosystem, particularly as on-the-go applications are developed and take advantage of mobile data inputs, such as GPS.

The gimmick is over. Voice is now known, popular. and frequently used. In 2020, the industry will pick up its game and provide real value to customers. Users at this point are past the pleasing effect of the coolness of voice interaction with a machine and will demand useful functionality. In 2020, the focus will be on serving the day-to-day lives of users with the content updates they are searching for, the knowledge they would like to be informed about, and their daily tasks predicted and more easily completed. Any company not providing consumers with real value in a well-polished experience will be tossed to the side of the road and forgotten. The expectation of quality will simply be higher. That means the platforms, brands, media, and other content providers will need to step up their game simply to keep pace.

They key is removing friction. While it is easy to get a weather forecast, getting a podcast, for example, has been loaded with frustration. Apple Podcasts just did a deal with Amazon so the app works seamlessly with Alexa. Now, just to get people to use it. Awareness and learning are always a challenge for anything new. On to the car the next big area. GM, Toyota, BMW, Ford and Audi head the list of companies putting voice compatibility into infotainment systems. Some retroactively, meaning earlier models will have functionality. Let the anarchy begin.
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