Phones are getting smarter and becoming the hub of an active life. The challenge is, typing on a small keyboard is not comfortable or convenient.
So why not make it easy and use virtual assistants to get information using voice? As of October 2014, 41 percent of adults and 55 percent of teens used Siri, Google Now or Cortana voice search at least once a day.
Many top tech companies are spending a lot of money and manpower to make it convenient for people to control their devices using voice commands.
In some ways, Amazon may have a head start with a device called the Amazon Echo, also known as Alexa. It’s always on and listening; at the user’s voice command, it provides answers to questions and information from the Web, and it can perform tasks such as switching on smart devices and lights or playing music.
Alexa has a “far-field voice recognition” component, so it can recognize a voice from across the room. While I do not use this device myself, I have heard glowing reviews from users. Amazon also offers the Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote that you can speak to instead of pressing a button to watch your favorite TV show.
Google’s approach to voice technology is slightly different. Instead of a reactive approach to a user’s voice commands, Google is using the knowledge it has of a user’s behavior to learn and anticipate needs.
For example, Google, via the Google Now app, will give you traffic information close to the time you start your commute. You can choose and customize the cards that you use and get reminders of bills to pay, flight information and weather as Google Now learns from your email and uses it to anticipate what information you may need.
For Google Now, the wake phrase is “OK, Google.” I recently tried the query “driving time from Atlanta to Ashland Alabama,” and Google Now told me the driving time was one hour and 47 minutes and offered to give me directions. This is very useful if you are in the car and want to get some quick information hands-free.
Google Now is integrated into Nexus devices. If you want to use it on Android or your desktop, use the Google Now App or the Chrome browser. If you opt in and your activity is already being tracked, you will be able to get timely information that is both convenient and necessary for you.
Waze, a navigation app owned by Google, recognizes patterns and guesses where you are going based on the time of day you are leaving. Google Now gives you traffic alerts at the time you usually leave for work or are getting ready to go home.
Apple has Siri, and Microsoft has Cortana. Both have gained a lot of publicity in the way they answer questions and provide information using the user’s voice commands. In Windows 10, Microsoft has incorporated Cortana into the desktop; you can choose a simple search bar and choose to type or to use voice to search.
The advancement of voice-based queries uses a combination of several technologies, such as Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Text-to-Speech (TTS). To get more accurate results when using voice search, users must use pre-programmed language voice search tools to make requests. Slang, accents and speech patterns vary widely and present a challenge.
The accuracy of voice recognition and Natural Language Processing will undoubtedly get better. As an example of how things are developing quickly, Google Research in September 2015 announced “even better neural network acoustic models using Connectionist Temporal Classification (CTC) and sequence discriminative training techniques. These models are a special extension of recurrent neural networks (RNNs) that are more accurate, especially in noisy environments, and they are blazingly fast!”
At this time, it appears that websites do not require any special markup coding to surface in results from voice-activated search. Follow all the best practices and update regularly to keep your website optimized for search.
As soon as you finish reading this article, be sure to use your favorite virtual assistant — Siri, Google Now, Cortana or Alexa — to search for yourself or your company name and see if the results are any different from your typed organic search. When searching for my name, my LinkedIn profile came up as the first result on Cortana, while Google Now had a tough time with my last name. When it did recognize it, it showed me my LinkedIn profile as the first result.
Here are some changes you can expect in future as voice-based search catches on.
While everyone was in agreement that voice search isn’t there yet, it is something that’s growing and may play a prominent role in the future of search — primarily in that voice search will be integrated into our lives beyond just phones. Here’s what’s likely in the future:
What has been your experience as a user of these virtual assistants? Do you think we are ready for more voice search?
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