CES question: voice first or voice gimmick?

This was the first Voice First CES and it’ll be the first of many. Where electronics dependent on the iOS ecosystem had once reigned, “Works with Alexa” seemed to be CES 2017’s war cry. No other company nor enjoyed concept so much free advertising.

Which led to debates as to whether it’ll last. I was often challenged: are the likes of Alexa, Google Home, and their brethren merely gimmicks? (Thankfully that’s not a direct quote and no one genuinely talks like that.) Will Voice First happen?

Yes, but in limited environments at first. Namely the home and the car.

Contrary to where some people focus the debate, voice is a user interface no more gimmicky than a touchscreen. And it’s an interface that, in a home, is far more natural than a smartphone app. In a car, both more convenient and legal.

Consider the interface options that exist within a connected home right now for an action as minor as turning on a light;

  1. Find your phone, login, open an app, find the relevant app screen, and turn on your lights;
  2. Walk to your wall switch and turn on you lights;
  3. Say “Alexa, turn on my lights.”

The third is inarguably the easiest and, as IoT devices continue to become commodities, 3 becomes frictionless in comparison to both 1 and 2. Of course, Voice First has many other areas of consumer appeal apart from smart home control. “Alexa, what’s the traffic like?” “Alexa, play my morning wake up playlist.” “Alexa, text my girlfriend I love her.”

All easier via voice than via a smartphone app or desktop computer provided, of course, that the surrounds are cohesive to the instruction. All voice commands above are embarrassment free within the context of your home or car, but voice commands issued in a busy, public space won’t always feel so unexceptional.

Voice First will happen. Voice is our most natural user interface and means of communication, so much so that research firm Gartner predicts that by 2018 some 30% of current touchscreen actions will be performed via voice control instead. That in itself is huge.