When designing for improved experience, removing friction from the interaction is a key goal.
Over the last decade, we’ve gradually moved towards a state whereby we expect to be able to interact with our personal devices and technology by means of touching and swiping a screen rather than having to interact by punching the keys of often tiny keyboards and other such mechanical interfaces.
Through the gaming world of Wii, PlayStation Move and Microsoft Kinect, we’re also becoming accustomed to merely gesturing, in front of a camera, in the expectation of executing commands, incorporating more natural behaviours of physical motion within a defined space.
As we move inexorably towards the age of the ‘internet of things’, in which we will be able to interact with a myriad of smart connected devices, human computer interaction is expected to evolve away from screens towards increasingly natural behaviours. And what could be more natural that speech, which we humans have relied on for communication with each other for millennia.
In the longer term, it's quite possible that we will be using only our thoughts to execute certain commands, but in the near term, the focus is on moving towards devices with which we can interact by speech, with the end goal of creating an experience which is more authentic, meaningful and engenders more connection.
Amazon’s Echo is a voice-activated speaker that connects to music services like Spotify and Amazon Music, but can also take commands and talk back much like Apple’s Siri. It can also activate smart connected home appliances, such as lighting and heating, or even boiling an internet-connected kettle.
Google Home, due for release next week, is also a voice-activated speaker and offers similar services, including compatibility with existing Google smart products like Chromecast and the Nest thermostat. With the user’s permission, “Google Home will learn about you and get personal”, according to the marketing material. This could include providing traffic information or setting alarms and timers based on people’s online information and behaviours.
Both devices are priced to penetrate a mass market, and both companies clearly have ambitions to become the hub of the future connected home, an open, accessible ecosystem that will draw in and connect smart products from a wide range of brands and, eventually, consumers.
Our initial experience with these devices may be less than optimal, they may struggle to correctly interpret and translate the commands made in a wide variety of different accents. But the entry of the tech behemoths into the voice-assistant market is a sure sign that they envision our homes being voice commanded and our experience of the connected future as being hands free.
The battle will be on to capture and mine the data within in our every spoken word, just as they did our every keyed word, if we allow them to listen.