10 months ago

Smart Industry 1/2018

Smart Industry 1/2018 - The IoT Business Magazine - powered by Avnet Silica


Smart Communications Voice Interface | Chatbots aspect” of the future of technology. We have to do away with a rather dominant assumption: one type of interface replaces another type of interface. This is not true. After the big, and ongoing, switch from mouse plus keyboard to multi-touch (plus keyboard), we are entering the age of additive interfaces. Smartphones and multi-touch are not going anywhere, Showstopper Alexa has been the secret star of CES for two years in a row Under control Voice allows interaction with all kinds of smart devices and apps they’re here to stay. But now they’ve got company. Voice is clearly an additive interface. Voice makes some interactions easier but is not better suited than a GUI for others. And a new additive interface is rising – augmented reality. What uses are more suited to voice? Broadly speaking, you can split user interactions with smart devices into two segments: the initial setup phase, and day-to-day usage. Setup, at the very least, requires the authentication of yourself, or the services and the networks which connect to the device. Even if everything is kept in the default state, this often proves more complex for users than the second phase, the actual use. A GUI makes more sense for this first phase and that’s why every voice system is accompanied by an app for setting things up. The second phase involves repeated actions and this creates space for voice. Think about it in the context of the smart home: turn on your lights by voice, trigger predefined “scenes” by voice (turn lights off and turn TV on, for example), control connected kitchen appliances by voice while cooking, and so on. Voice is only a subset of conversational interfaces A new catchphrase, conversational commerce, emerged in 2016. Broadly speaking, this is regular e-commerce performed in a “chatty” way using a conversational interface. The voice interface may be incorporated in a mobile chat app using text con- 52

version or voice through a smart speaker. The interesting aspect from a developer’s perspective is that once you have built your bot/AI, it doesn’t matter much whether your customers engage through text or audio. Considering voice as a subset of conversational interfaces immed iately increases its usefulness. Conversational commerce is where Amazon is making money with Alexa. Voice is perfect when reordering consumables, for example – simple, repeated actions. Amazon has now built a more convenient way to buy consumables and other products by connecting Alexa with Prime – and it is the biggest player in standalone voice gadgets through the company’s growing Echo speaker family. Voice is still an open field, especially for non-English-speaking markets. While Apple’s Siri can support 21 languages (localized for 36 countries), only eight are supported by Microsoft’s Cortana, four delivered in Google Assistant, and currently Amazon’s Alexa has only two (English and German). Amazon Echo has three years of experience; Google Home, the first to follow, was released two years later in 2016; last summer, Alibaba released its Echo-like speaker Tmall Genie; and, barring any further delays, Apple’s Homepod should be hitting the first homes around the time you're reading this. While there are, by far, more phones with Siri or Assistant onboard, making the potential customer base for those smart assistants bigger, it is the far smaller, smart-speaker market that matters. This is especially true for the Internet of Things. A dedicated communal voice-based device can become a smart home hub but a smartphone, which is personal, cannot. Amazon is building its own operating system Alexa is the best example to study because, first, voice is not bound to screenless speakers and, secondly, Amazon is a fierce platform company determined not to lose out to any rival consumer-centric platform plays. Amazon has introduced Echo Look, an Echo with a cloud and AI-connected Style Check camera, and Echo Show, the first Echo with a screen. More importantly, Alexa has been the “secret” star at the influential CES show for two years in a row. Through 2016 and 2017, numerous companies announced Alexa-enabled gadgets. Amazon is effectively making its own operating system – in the cloud, voice-based. And many of the other big companies are joining in – no one wants to miss out. Facebook may use Messenger and WhatsApp to build its own voice platform. Samsung is now trying to push Bixby (formerly Viv) from the people behind Siri, but with mixed results – the dedicated Bixby buttons on the Galaxy S8 and Note 8 are universally hated by users. In our previous issue, we showed how even a former giant like Nokia is getting in on the action: Corporate Comeback with IoT: Reinventing Nokia... Again. The application level is even more interesting than the OS/platform level. What do the emerging voice markets mean for current and new brands and manufacturers? Premium speaker brand Sonos is the first example pointing to where we are heading in the voice space. Sonos Mixed results Samsung's Bixby is struggling to catch up with Amazon's Alexa Northern lights Ikea's Tradfri home lighting system can be voice controlled via Alexa or Apple HomeKit One supports Alexa right out of the gate and will add Google Assistant in 2018. Sonos' implicit modus operandi is: we'll build the best speakers and will support all major voice platforms that allow integration. Homeware company Ikea is doing something similar with its first smart home product family. Its Tradfri smart lighting system supports Alexa and Apple HomeKit, and can connect with Philips Hue gateway. What Sonos and Ikea are doing is referred to by economists as “multi-homing” because they support several platforms simultaneously and thereby slightly decrease the market power of those platforms. In the sci-fi TV series Extant, Halle Berry plays a near-future astronaut. Anyone interested in interfaces, the Internet of Things and where things are heading in the consumer space should take a look, at least at the pilot episode. It provides a well thoughtthrough picture of where we are heading: a world where voice tech is everywhere and any surface can be an interface, invisibly connected and equally invisibly user-authenticated – FaceID, anyone? That world is approaching fast. 53