If you have lived through the dot-com bubble burst in early 2000, then you need no introduction to how the web pulled the carpet under many business empires that were built on brick and mortar. Print photography was reduced from mass market to art form by digital photography. After being in existence for over a century, Encyclopedia productions came to a jostling halt within few years of Wikipedia going live. Yet many businesses saw the pessimistic side of technology taking over their life, livelihood and beyond but were reluctant to adopt and embrace it.
Perhaps this sense of complacency could be why the post office did not invent the email? Telecom companies did not invent instant messengers or black and yellow taxi companies did not invent cab aggregating apps.
Talking of apps, the world had a crappy user interface to interact with computers, it started with nerdy long lines of code to poorly pixilated screens controlled with a squeaky roller ball mice; until one guy changed it all for good with the introduction of iPhones, and we started touching the software, literally.
A simple, unscientific observation tells us that about every ten years, as a revolutionary technology hits a crescendo, it redefines the business landscape; 1998 was Web, 2008 was the introduction of Apps, and in 2018, we have Voice on steroids.
As far as voice commerce (a term I use for the entire industry in general) is concerned, we don’t have to worry about an 800-pound gorilla but three gigantic Godzilla! From cars to homes to mobile phones to TV, Voice assistants are percolating into every touch point we use today in our daily lives to get us habituated early on, learn about us, personalise every recommendation from traffic routes to adding tissue papers in shopping carts.
While early adopter brands (cab aggregators again) continue to place their bets on any emerging technology such as blockchain or advanced AI, many are still on the defence or sitting on the fence waiting to disinter a smoking gun before starting to consider embracing the voice commerce. Here are three compelling reasons why voice is not a fad.
There’s a Whole New Breed of People: What’s common between children under 6 and non-English literates? Increasingly both they are searching their favourite rhymes, toy reviews or videos & recipes respectively by invoking the voice search function now built as de facto on apps and browsers. As voice UI gets better and these people are habituated to it, there’s no going back to typing. To back my hypothesis with data, voice search contributed 20% of all Google searches last May and quickly escalated to 28% by December 2017. I am betting this is only going north from here and have hired a team of engineers to build products for voice platforms.
Rethink What Digital Inclusion Stands for: Every other brand wants to suck up to millennials, fair enough; my startup Agrahyah Technologies does that too, but what about geriatrics? The moms and dads, who are well to do, but lonely and bored and want to talk to someone about their health, finance or stuff in general? I gifted a smart speaker to my folks and now they are all chatty with it, non-stop. Digital inclusion does not just mean those who do not have an internet connection, but it also means people who have it but are underutilising it. Voice enables us to be better inclusive.
A New World of Possibilities: The intrinsic potential in voice unlocks multiple potential for both people and brands, one such potential of voice is the ability to talk back with context; a human-like trait that neither web, wearables nor apps had in the past. Brands that understand the potential of voice at fundamental level have an unfair advantage, they can shape the market, help people get habituated, have a softer learning curve and most of all, step out of quick-sands to fertile lands to stay in the game longer.
Voice is a revolutionary technology in the making, a crucial cornerstone in erecting an edifice for IOT driven smart homes and cities. Early adopter brands can aim to be a star on the walk of fame and the laggards could turn out be another brick in the wall, the choice is ours.