Voice User Interfaces Are Here To Stay
VUI, Voice User Interfaces, widely known among sci-fi fans such as Jarvis in the superhero blockbuster series Iron Man, are now introduced in people’s real life, enabling people to control a machine through simply talking with technology giants Apple and Amazon publishing their own personal assistant. Until recently it is considered to be artificial intelligence, an essential ingredient of a completely connected future. However, the following passage puts before us not only key advantages but also some limits when using VUI in public spaces. And its deadly defect.
It takes you 6 minutes to read.
When you talk to a human being, there’s never an unrecoverable error state.
— A. Jones, Design Lead at Google
Today, you can pick up your phone, or another magical device, and say: “Show me coffee shops within two miles that have Wi-Fi and are open on Sundays”, and after you’ll get directions to all of them.
The term “conversational UI” is making a lot of headlines right now. The main goal is to turn everything into a conversation, such as turning on the lights, closing or opening doors/windows in your smart home, ordering flowers for your girlfriend or asking the fridge whether you’re out of milk. But what exactly does “conversational” mean? It’s a back-and-forth exchange of information. Each individual fragment is a simple interaction, and the next one has no knowledge of the previous. Each one of these conversational collaborations could be completed on its own. Anyone with a smartphone can easily book plane flights, transfer money, order food or cabs, find local movie times and etc?—?all of that by using nothing more than a regular phone and text. The youngest users today are incredibly adept at two-thumbed texting, multitasking between different chats, commenting on Instagram, swiping left/right on Tinder and blabbing with a friend via FaceTime. Why should we add another mode of communication on top of that?
Yeah, voice has some key advantages:
According to recent Stanford studies, human can dictate text messages much faster than type.
Pretty useful while you’re driving/cycling/cooking, and when you’re across the room from your device.
Humans have issues with understanding tone via the written words, whereas the voice includes volume, intonation, and tone.
Everyone knows how to talk.
In addition, devices with a small screen (such as smart watches) and no screens at all (Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePod) are becoming more popular. Voice is often the preferred (or the only) way to interact with them. 35,6M users have used a voice-enable speaker in 2017. +126% over 2016.
The fact that the voice today is the best way for humans to communicate can’t be overemphasized. Imagine the world where you’ve created a technology by which there’s no need to explain to your customers how to use it, cause they already know. How? They can simply ask. But the voice is NOT always a useful “tool” (if I may say so) for your clients.
The main reasons are listed below:
# Public spaces
I’m absolutely sure that many of you, yeah you, who are reading the article right now, work in open-plan office spaces, incubators, coffee shops or live-work lofts. Imagine the situation when you’re asking your computer to do a task: “Find me the last edited .rb file for the past hour?”. Let’s assume, it’s a very common request for Siri. But now imagine how everyone around you doing the same thing! It would be chaos, wouldn’t it? In addition, when you speak, whose computer is listening?
Voice UI’s (VUI’s) are becoming more commonplace, but not everyone feels comfortable speaking out load to a computer, even in private. Even me.
Many people spend hours a day on their mobile phones and type a lot. I think it’s a normal mode because I’m not always in the mood for switching to the voice.
Of course! If you need to discuss some health issues or… I don’t know, some kind of personal stuff, you won’t do so by speaking to your phone on the train ride into work.
So, referring to engineers and designers… do you still think that your mobile app should have a VUI? If your main use case is hands-free (cooking app/playing podcasts while driving)?—?absolutely. If people will use your app in a particularly vulnerable or emotional state (health care/comfort)?—?voice can help them either. If you’re building a skill for Amazon Echo, which many people use in the privacy of their home, the voice is the best option again.
But if your use case is going to be mostly in public places (navigating a public transit system/for people on the go)?—?a VUI might not be appropriate. If it’s an app people will use at the workplace, having a text messaging mode might be better.
Think carefully about your users and their use cases. Will your users benefit from a VUI? Adding a VUI because it’s cool and trendy is not the right thing for you as creative developers. Chatbots can have a VUI, but more typically they use a text-based interface. Most major tech companies like Google, Facebook or Microsoft?—?they have platforms to develop bots.
Although VUIs are becoming more common, there are still many users who are unfamiliar with it or don’t trust it. Many people try out the voice recognition on their smartphone once and then, after it fails, never try it again.
Enabling users to speak to their phones and devices opens up an entire world of experiences. Whether it’s looking up a piece of trivia during a dinner argument, asking a device to dim the lights, or managing the everyday tasks of your life. Voice user interface can enhance them all.
p.s. Don’t forget about one important thing below.
“Having a conversation with a system that can’t remember anything beyond the last interaction makes for a dumb and not very useful experience.”
inspired by Cathy Pearl and her extraordinary book “Designing VUIs”
By Irma Kornilova,business development manager at Botscape.me.