You can talk to your car, your phone...your television. But can they talk back?
That's the promise of a conversational interface. The Amazon Echo is now one of the most popular devices on the market, and it's mostly due to the fact that the product can hear you, understand, and respond. I tested this theory recently.
I connected an Amazon Echo to my wireless network easily enough. Then, I started asking questions. Who will win the Super Bowl? Is there a blizzard coming tomorrow? Can you read me a book from my library? It's amazing how the device, which uses the name Alexa as a voice prompt, can understand just about anything. She told me the Panthers would win (how true). She explained that we'll be getting 3-5 inches of snow in Minneapolis today. Ouch. She even read me a book from my Amazon library.
Conversational interfaces know what you are asking and respond. On your smartphone, you may already have the Google app installed, but it's amazing how you can perform a search and then engage in a conversation. You can ask about the Panthers this Sunday, and then ask "who is the quarterback" and you will hear about Cam Newton. This is amazing because the app understands context. (It's been doing that for a few years, actually.) And, it's only going to improve.
The reason we will see a rise in these interfaces is that we have way too many gadgets, too much software, and there are too many sites feeding us information. It's going to expand quickly this year. Imagine logging into your computer in the morning and saying "read me the latest artist about the game this Sunday" and having that actually work. More than that, you'll be able to have a dialog. Why will the Panthers win? Who is the coach? Who is injured? What will the weather be like?
This kind of innovation has come about because there is a long history of speech recognition technology slowly learning how we talk and what we really want. It's a field that gets better over time. The speech dictionaries get better the more we talk and the more we ask questions. It's even understanding dialects and idioms.
Amazon Echo is expanding into new territory quickly. I connected my Vivint connected system to it the other day. I can ask Alexa to lock all of my doors at night. Most importantly, getting that to work did not require any new wiring or complex software installs. I just enabled the feature in the app.
Cars are also changing. Many new models like the 2016 Chevy Impala now support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The huge milestone here is that you can press and hold a button, then talk to Siri or the Google app. In my tests, I was able to ask for directions just by saying the name of the company and asking for directions. It's conversational. I can ask for a news report, set a reminder, or reply to a text message. That has never worked quite right before. It works so well, it might reduce accidents.
How will this impact business? I can imagine a few scenarios. You could book a meeting room by talking to the room. You could find out how many sheets are left in the printer. You could adjust the temperature in the lobby. You could ask Siri on your phone to start a phone call with "the investors, partners, and exec team" and Siri would understand what you mean. You could order more water for the office.
I first heard the term "conversational interfaces" from Tal Chalozin, the CTO and co-founder of Innovid, an interactive video startup based in New York City and elsewhere. He has installed a connected home system using the Amazon Echo and a Raspberry Pi micro-computer. He can turn off the lights, watch television, and control the security system with his voice. Bonus that every Amazon Echo has two microphones -- one in the hub itself and one in the remote.
As with any trend, you either jump on board or get out of the way.
I believe conversational interfaces will become an incredible opportunity in 2016. Other products will connect to Echo, but we'll start seeing other voice-controlled gadgets as well. We'll see startups that jump on this market.
I'm excited to see how it pans out. If you know of some emerging tech in the conversational interfaces market, send me a note.