My son takes out his phone hundreds of times a day. He is a real digital native. But I’ve noticed a fundamental difference in the way he uses it compared to how I or my colleagues use our devices. For my son and his generation, Siri is almost like a friend to them. They are innately at home asking for anything and everything, to the extent that he rarely types.
It’s the same with Amazon’s Alexa, where my wife and I only give it basic commands like “Alexa, play Pandora” or “Alexa, stop”, my son asks complex questions. One of my colleagues says jokingly — but half seriously — that his children wouldn’t know how to dial their phone without asking Siri. Another informs me that his children use YouTube with voice commands.
Voice search has long been the aim of brands, and research now shows that it is coming to fruition. I admit I was skeptical about the impact of voice, but the stories of my children and those of my colleagues bring home one of the most misunderstood parts of the mobile revolution. It’s misunderstood because of this generational divide in how we use our smartphones. And the statistics are impressive: According to research by Gartner, voice-based search queries are the fastest-growing mobile search type, and comScore estimates half of all searches will be performed via voice by 2020. Google’s recent demo at its I/O conference of its Assistant making an actual phone call to make an appointment at a hairdresser received headlines around the world.
This shift to voice is also being driven by smart speakers such as Amazon’s Alexa. Research suggests that already 20% of the U.S. population has access to smart speakers. We even recently saw two AI systems “talking” to each other, with Microsoft’s Cortana being able to communicate through Amazon’s Alexa. This is another example of what analysts are calling the “hyper-adoption” of new technologies by consumers — where people adapt to and adopt new technologies much faster than they did in the past. With every new generation, I believe the shift to voiceless will accelerate.
However, there is still some work to do. As analyst Benedict Evans pointed out on Twitter, there’s an interesting “contradiction in the way voice is going to replace all screen interactions, when, meanwhile, voice assistants have complex multi-screened control apps.”
But what does this mean for organizations and for brands? First, these statistics and anecdotal stories bring home the critical importance of making sure your website is optimized for voice search. This will impact search engine optimization (SEO), as people search using different terms from specific keywords and rely on natural language — just like my son asks complex questions rather than how you would typically search with keywords on Google on a web browser. And if you were not already making sure your website is optimized for mobile users, then this should be a wake-up call.
Meanwhile, for executives and developers creating tomorrow’s software products, it means voice must be an integral part of the user experience. It means shifting from thinking in terms of the customer or user using the software via swiping on their phone or clicking on a mouse to how to go about delivering a seamless experience via voice. It means delivering experiences in a world where immediacy is key. People want to ask a question and receive immediate and insightful information.