Sean Molam
Technical Director
5 mins
Our top technology predictions for 2019 demonstrate the rising power of voice-enabled technology and its impact on digital solutions.

1) Voice Moves from Novelty to Convenience, Adoption Surges

Australia’s 5% adoption of smart speakers is nothing to laugh at, especially considering the country’s adoption rate and awareness of Google Home is now beating the US market. As new users integrate digital assistants into their daily routine, the technology is rapidly changing from a novelty to a true convenience. This will serve as the bedrock for mainstream adoption just as with smartphones and more recently smartwatches. With a global projected growth rate of 1000% over the next five years, it’s no wonder some are saying voice-enabled devices and smart homes could be the fastest adopted technology on record beating both mobile and smartwatches. What started as a minor novelty and a thing to impress friends has quickly, for those who have embraced it, morphed into a new part of the daily routine, e.g. finding out the temperature before leaving to work, streaming a song while cooking or estimating transport times. Voice is to be taken seriously, and the behaviour is here to stay.

Though to date voice assistants have largely only been used for minor tasks, like checking the weather or playing a song; expect this casual usage to become a behavioural habit in 2019. As the experiences and skills in the voice assistant ecosystems improve, more and more people are expected to talk and keep talking to their digital assistants. Google and Amazon are also doing their part to cement everyday behaviour through various above the line advertising campaigns, such as the Max Gawn commercial for Google Home Mini.

2) Natural Language Search Increasing

Over 70% of queries through Google Assistant use a natural language format, meaning people are asking questions of their voice assistants in the same way they would any other person.  This insight is significant for two main reasons: firstly, the queries used to optimise content must change to stay competitive in the search channel; and secondly, it shows the way people interact with voice assistants is more natural and more comfortable than typed search. This ease of use is another force in the rapid adoption of voice-based technology and behaviour. Below is just one example of the shift to conversational search queries.

IMAGE SOURCE: HTTPS://WWW.THINKWITHGOOGLE.COM/CONSUMER-INSIGHTS/NATURAL-LANGUAGE-SEARCHES/

3) Assistant Privacy & Listening Concerns

The only bump in the road for Voice & Digital Assistants in 2019 is a bigger focus on how this new technology tracks and stores user data. Both Google and Amazon remain vague on how they track, store and ultimately use voice data.  

There is also growing concern over voice assistants’ ability to listen ambiently to your conversations and the background noise around your connected devices. Amazon recently filed a patent for a ‘Voice Sniffer Algorithm’ that can be used to identify keywords in a background conversation and mine them for user intent. The diagram below from the patent shows an algorithm mining keywords from a phone conversation. It’s a little spooky.

IMAGE SOURCE: HTTPS://PPCHUBBUB.COM/VOICE-SEARCH/AMAZON-VOICE-SEARCH/AMAZONS-PATENT-FOR-VOICE-SNIFFING-IS-CAUSING-A-STINK/

While this is only one of the thousands of patents filed by Amazon, many of which are not used, it does show that the concept of assistants ambiently listening to conversations is real and is being considered by big technology companies. As ethicists and journalists bring more attention to moves like this, increased demand for regulation and oversight by the US government is expected in order to create more transparency on what data is being tracked, how it is being used and allowing the public access to their data.

If you’d like to review what the Google Assistant has recorded from your conversations, you can view all of your tracked Google activity and filter for Voice & Audio

4) Voice Becomes Visual

There is a lingering perception that ‘voice’ interactions will be constrained to purely auditory experiences, however, the reality is that the UI people engage with can be a combination of voice and visual mediums, dependent on the situation and device. Both the Google Assistant and Bixby apps have great visual user interfaces on mobile, the device we use the most. These inbuilt mobile features paired with all the new voice/visual smart home devices released in 2018 (Google Home HubAlexa Show) will continue to drive the growth and adoption of audiovisual voice experiences in 2019.

5) Integrated ecosystems

The world is an extremely connected place, with over 23 billion devices connected to the internet already, and predictions that by 2025, up to 75 billion devices will be connected. 2019 is expected to be an exciting year in terms of newly launched and improved services to support this growth. For example, the release of Amazon Greengrass, Google Cloud IoT Edge (still in alpha version) and Microsoft Azure IoT Edge, now allow developers to add some form of “AI” to be embedded in these connected devices. In addition to this, a myriad of hardware chips are being released that are making it easier for even home hobbyists to get onboard with chips like Particle.IO, Arduino and Meadow.

The internet and voice assistants have already embedded themselves in desktop and mobile devices, but are set to expand even further to almost any touchpoint in users’ lives. Think beer pod machines, talking toilets, and smart wood (yes it’s a thing) to name a few. While most of this core technology isn’t new, the new levels of AI integration will add a level of efficiency and convenience that will genuinely improve lives. As more manufacturers get on board and open their devices to AI integration, consumers and businesses will gain the ability to create weird and wonderful combinations, like turning on Air Conditioning with a “Yo”.

Brands such and BMWUber, and Philips are getting onboard, by exposing secure hooks that allow non-technical users to interact with their devices, with hundreds more set to follow and build on what they have started.  Consumers can securely and simply use these hooks with the help of online services such as If This Then That (IFTTT), a free way to get all your apps and devices talking to each other with the help of Applets or “Recipes”. To gain a better understanding of how this works watch this video including an example IFTTT have created.  

For example, using a BMW IFTTT “recipe” a user could have their BMW car connected to their phone’s location services so that when they approach their car (within a certain distance) it turns itself on, turns the air conditioning on only if it is a hot day, and then triggers an SMS to their partner to alert them that they are on their way home. The options available are only limited by consumers’ imaginations - here’s a list of interesting IFFT recipes to get you brainstorming.

In 2019, brands that don’t already have these capabilities will need to start planning and developing integrations or fear rejection from consumers.

Here are two great ideas for brands interested in building integration capabilities:

  • Start an innovation lab to experiment with the latest options, this doesn’t need to be elaborate, but it does need to have a purpose. Come and check out our King Street offices to see how we’ve set up our device lab for testing and experimentation.
  • Invest in exposing data or services via secure web-services, enabling the creation of “recipes” for IFTTT. Make sure to refer to the specific IFTTT documentation to learn how your organisation could be made available via their platform.