It's been nearly a decade since "Hey Siri.." became part of iPhone user's search queries. When Siri was launched by Apple in 2011, it was no less than a sensation. There was novelty in voice search, though the speech-to-text feature has been around since 2007. However, Siri was the game-changer and enjoyed monopoly for a year. Microsoft's Cortana and Amazon's Alexa followed shortly and with the arrival of Google Assistant, voice search became mainstream.
Whoever thought that the simplicity of 'asking' your device for something and hearing back from it, would have such an impact on user experience!
Before we delve further, let us demystify how voice search works. Simply put, it deploys speech recognition technology to mimic how our brain makes sense of and responds to, sounds. The algorithms segment sound packets into groups and arrange them to make words that fit into the context. These words are then run through a search database, generating the desired output.
Why voice technology is a winner for developers and end users
Today, the scope of sound recognition technology has moved beyond search. There are novel use cases across industries, especially in e-commerce. Let's take a look at some features that make voice imperative, for both end users and app developers.
It's a time-saver
We speak faster than we type - and that makes voice search a fast, user-friendly feature. As we speak, companies are working to make voice search deliver more accurate and relevant results. This eventually will contribute to combining speed of delivery with sharpened accuracy.
The option of multilinguality
Research data shows that given an option, users prefer to use their native languages in digital transactions. Voice based search with multilingual capabilities has found great user acceptance, and leading mobile technology companies have already added multilingual capabilities to voice search. For instance, Google Assistant now supports 30 major languages on Android devices.
Cloud-based and hence lightweight
Voice search applications are cloud-based, like most contemporary technologies. This lends speed-to-market, reliability and ease of management for developers to work with. For the user, the technology is hassle-free owing to easy access.
Improving accuracy levels
Google's Sundar Pichai recently announced that the company's speech recognition technology achieved a word error rate of 4.9%. This simply means that incorrect word transcriptions by Google's apps happen only once in 20 cases. Bundling technologies such as deep learning- a form of artificial intelligence- with voice technology has contributed to improved accuracy levels. Similarly, Microsoft had in 2017 announced that it had hit 5.1% word error rate. The error rate benchmarks evolve parallely as companies work on more features.
Versatility of applications
Voice recognition has found applications in features outside search. For instance, in real estate, Alexa is being used in many smart home projects. Similarly, keyword based voice search is also prevalent, thus simplifying the feature more for the end user.In banking, voice based commands help specially abled customers or senior citizens do the paper works conveniently. In automobiles, use of voice technology in navigation helps the drivers multitask while driving, without accidents. The hospitality industry uses voice translation facilities to help tourists overcome the language barrier. Similarly, many food chains such as Starbucks, Dennys and Domino's Pizza take orders through Alexa and Siri.
Drawbacks of voice search
The shortfalls of voice technology are many as well. For instance, the accuracy levels still need to improve. This affects the reliability of the technology in certain applications especially in sectors like health. Moreover, in contexts where accents and style of speaking may vary, the technology may not deliver the desired results.
Despite its shortfalls, voice technology is here to stay and finding newer applications as the world leans increasingly towards digital transactions. From what we hear from technology companies, the accuracy rates of voice technology will also improve considerably in the years to come.
Let's wait and watch.