With the momentum behind hands-free music streaming on smart speakers, brands like Pandora and Spotify are elevating their voice strategies through custom assistants tailored to their apps and users. Voice Mode, Pandora’s mobile voice assistant capability, was introduced in 2019 for listeners to control their music with commands.
Now this week, Spotify is officially rolling out its voice assistant within its app, along with developing a voice-activated hardware device for the car. As these two platforms’ assistants evolve, not only are advanced music platform interaction and recommendations made possible, but advertising and emotional sentiment capabilities are on the horizon. As a result, we see voice tech becoming more than just a tool to choose your favorite song with a simple command, but a way to enable personalized experiences, changing the way people use streaming services.
You can pay for so many things by voice now that blogging about it seems a little silly. But it’s pretty cool that so many gas pumps are now Alexa-enabled – “Alexa Fuel” – as noted in this voicebot.ai article. Here’s an excerpt:
Drivers can now ask Alexa to handle fuel payments at more than 11,500 Exxon and Mobil gas stations in the U.S. The program, first previewed by Amazon at CES in January, skips the need to use a card or touchpad, relying only on voice commands and some access to the voice assistant.
Getting Alexa to pay for the gas just requires a driver to have some way of communicating with Alexa. That can include cars with Alexa built-in, an Echo Auto device in the car, or just the Alexa app on a smartphone. When they park the car at the pump and ask the voice assistant to pay for gas, Alexa will determine what gas station they are at and the pump number, activating the pump remotely, so the driver simply has to insert the nozzle and start refueling their car. The transaction uses a customer’s existing Amazon Pay account, so there’s no extra sign-in needed, although the user can add a voice PIN if they want. Financial tech giant Fiserv supports the underlying communication between Alexa and the pump and facilitates the actual digital payment.
This “voicebot.ai” article is fascinating. It talks about a new synthetic voice called ‘Cerence Reader’ that is based on neural text-to-speech (TTS) and designed to read news to commuters.
This synthetic voice is unlike others – it has pausing, breathing and inflection – so it seem more humanlike than other synthetically generated voices.The article notes a preference for human voices becomes more intense when the passages of content are longer. So this could be a big development as noted in the article with this thought: “Having a synthetic speech option that sounds more humanlike opens up audio access to far more content than is available today and it can be available in real-time.”
You may hear that voice assistant use depends on context, but you rarely see data that backs up those statements. The In-car Voice Assistant Consumer Adoption Report 2020 breaks down 15 consumer use cases and shows that “making a phone call” is by far the most common activity while driving. Seventy-three percent of voice assistant users in the car say they are making phone calls by voice followed by asking for directions at 49.7%, and sending a text by 38.9%. The fourth and fifth most common use cases were “playing a streaming music service” and “playing the radio” with 27.0% and 14.0% respectively. These results are from a nationally representative sample of 1,090 U.S. adults in January 2020.
Meanwhile, this piece explains how voice plays a role in buying a car for 60% of car buyers…
The RAIN agency included this blurb in their weekly newsletter from this “Engadget” article:
ExxonMobile and Finserv have created an Alexa skill that will allow customers to pay for gas through Amazon’s voice assistant and Amazon Pay. Once a driver has arrived at their gas station, they can use Alexa from inside their vehicle to set up the payment process and activate the pump. This Alexa skill and feature will be available later this year and will initially be available at 11,500 stations.
Last Fall, Amazon announced they would be coming out with the “Echo Auto” – so that you could access Alexa in your car. A few months later, a few customers actually received the device at a discounted rate – and now it’s widely available for $50. You can just lay it down on the seat next to you or mount it into your dashboard. It’s smaller than an Echo Dot. Here’s a 4-minute video with some common questions answered (egs. need to plug it in & Android phone with bluetooth capability; don’t need an Internet connection):
As RAIN’s Eric Turkington writes in “Voicebot” last week, despite Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant offering no formal advertising opportunities, the first companies have developed voice-enabled ads – ones that particularly focus on those that commute. Here’s an excerpt:
All of these content opportunities beg the question of business model. Thus far, voice platforms have been loathe to allow advertising into the user experience for fear of alienating users as they acclimate to the new medium. Given the trends in streaming media today across music and video, it’s a good bet that freemium content models will come into the car, but there are also innovations in interactive audio advertising that could make ad-supported models more attractive. Instreamatic.ai is at the forefront of this movement, enabling content providers like Pandora to offer ads that users can talk to and which then drive them down the funnel. Early data indicates high levels of memorability and conversion compared to non-interactive audio ads.
Also see this TechCrunch piece about how Spotify is doing limited tests of voice-enabled ads…
I dig it, man! I don’t think of myself as someone that likes trivia games – nor do I commute since I work at home. But after playing “Drivetime” just once, I was hooked. Same with my wife. It’s a mobile app that you play while you drive (and you can also play when not driving if you’re so inclined).
Here’s five things to know:
1. Feels like a traditional “morning commute” radio show. Drivetime uses professional voice actors (with personality & humor) as their hosts, akin to radio show hosts. The Drivetime hosts – always two at a time as they verbally jab back & forth – provide interesting facts & color commentary as they deliver the trivia questions.
2. So here’s the twist on the traditional show format: you’re a participant (ie. interacting) in the show because you’re answering trivia questions that the hosts throw out.
3. You answer questions by talking to your phone (which can be resting on the seat next to you, etc.). Most questions are multiple-choice. But occasionally there are open-ended ones. You earn points along the way depending on how well you answer the questions (values increase as the questions become harder).
4. Each time you play Drivetime, you compete against someone else (actually, three other commuters because there are three segments on the show; you compete against a new person during each segment). Either the app chooses another commuter for you (“good luck next time, Jared”) – or you can adjust your settings to go head-to-head against your friends that also have downloaded the app. You’re told how you’re progressing in the competition as you go.
Love the British dude who indicates whether you’re winning, losing or in a tie. He’s a synthetic voice known as “Miles.”
5. The bottom line – the experience is a combination of entertainment & a game. Next level stuff.
Studies show that if you’re engaged mentally while driving, there’s less risk of being in an accident (if you’re doing so in a “hands-free” manner). So Drivetime arguably makes your drive safer. Learn more in this Voicebot podcast with Drivetime’s CEO Niko Vuori…
Although some newer cars have voice assistants built into them, many more drivers use the voice assistants in their smart phones when they’re in the car. But how are drivers using voice these days in the car? According a “voice.ai” report, the top five uses are:
So when driving, the use of voice is dominated by communicating, navigating & playing music. Which is somewhat different than how we use voice outside of the car. I believe the types of uses outside the car will continue to evolve, but I’m not sure how we use voice inside the car will change all that much in the future…