A layperson’s exploration of all things voice

Category Archives: Types of Use

May 22, 2019

What is Voice Used For? Depends on the Surface

This “voicebot.ai” article has a great chart showing the different ways that smart speakers are being used. This excerpted insight is particularly interesting:

Many people have suggested that voice really needs a killer app to succeed. The premise behind that sentiment is flawed because it assumes voice is one thing. Voice assistants can help with a wide variety of use cases and be used across multiple device surfaces. What we are likely to see is a series of killer apps some of which may be localized to a particular surface. For example, voice interactive navigation may be a killer app for the car, but only a minor benefit for smart speakers and inconsistently used on mobile. You can learn more about voice assistant use on other surfaces in the Voice Assistant Consumer Adoption Report from late 2018 and the In-Car Voice Assistant Consumer Adoption Report from 2019.

Smart speaker adoption is so strong because it already has a killer app trio with listening to music as the foundation. There is little doubt that convenience for getting weather information and answers to questions is valued by consumers. You can see it clearly in their behavior. However, it is unclear whether these features alone have driven smart speaker adoption. Music listening is different because it fills a voice left by the disappearance of radios and stereo systems in many households. And, music listening through streaming services and the radio are both among the top six smart speaker use cases. Far-field voice recognition paired with music and other audio services are an ideal match of form and function.

I agree with the commentary that follows this excerpt about how third-party skills offer users many more options to use voice – but that these skills have a discovery problem. Many owners of smart speakers simply don’t know they have access to these skills – or haven’t spent the time looking for the right ones for them. We will see how that changes over time…

April 11, 2019

Radio Reinvented: How NPR Views Voice

This video captures a 40-minute presentation by Ha-Hoa Hamano – Senior Product Manager, Voice Platforms of NPR – at the recent “Lingo Fest” conference. It was interesting to hear Ha-Hoa explain how NPR develops new voice experiences by following this 4-step process:

1. Workshopping – setting goals, gathering assumptions & generating hypotheses
2. Affinity mapping
3. Rapid prototyping
4. Prioritization at every step

Not only is NPR developing 5-minute flash briefings – one for each rush hour – it’s leveraging other ways to use voice. NPR recognizes the reinvention of radio includes on-demand audio (eg. podcasts); curated content and near-live experiences. It also recognizes that the voice experience is ubiquitous. It’s worth watching the video to understand how proper analysis is important when deciding how to best use voice.

Here’s a webpage where NPR explains all the different ways you can hear NPR content on voice platforms…

April 8, 2019

“Wellness” Skills to Help Your Health & Fitness

As the “wellness” industry grows along with an aging “Baby Boomer” population, the popularity of mobile apps to assist those looking for mindfulness also grows. A good example is the “Headspace” app – which includes bite-sized guided meditations and hundreds of themed sessions for stress, anxiety, sleep, etc.

It’s only natural that a bevy of skills is also available for those that seek wellness. Here are ten examples:

1. Sleep and Relaxation Sounds – With over 11,000 reviews – most of them five-star – this one is popular. You can pick from a list of 125 sounds and then let it loop until you say stop – or until a specific length of time that you tell it in advance. “Alexa open Sleep Sounds.”

2. Healing Sounds – Popular skill that plays relaxing sounds. You can select your sound or just listen to the one offered. In-skill purchasing available to buy additional sounds. “Alexa open Healing Sounds.”

3. Relaxing Sounds: Indian Flute – Great musical accompaniment for meditation, yoga, healing and complete relaxation. Of course, if you know the name of a musician who plays the Indian flute, you can just play their music directly. But if you don’t, this skill is for you. “Alexa, Open Indian Flute.”

4. 1-Minute Mindfulness: Peace One Minute at a Time – Provides a simple, one-minute break with sounds. You can extend the minute if you want. “Alexa, Ask Mindfulness for a minute meditation.”

5. The Daily Task – This is a skill to helps you to change step-by-step. I like the idea of this one – but it uses a synthetic voice. “Alexa, open The Daily Task.”

6. Guided Meditation: Meditation of the Day for Calm – Daily meditations between 3-8 minutes long, with a total of 80 or so in total. Tells you upfront how long a particular meditation will be. Uses a human voice. “Alexa, open Guided Meditation.”

7. Headspace – You need a Headspace account to access this skill. Provides new daily meditations and all the other type of stuff like the app mentioned above. “Alexa, open Headspace.”

8. Fitbit – You need a Fitbit account to access this skill. Helps you keep track of how you’re meeting your fitness goals – whether it be number of steps walked, number of hours slept, etc. “Alexa, ask Fitbit how I’m doing today.”

9. Swiss Workouts – Fitness Personal Trainer – This is a “Flash Briefing” so I’m cheating a little – but it caught my eye because it sounded so unique. It’s fitness tips from those that live in the Alps.

10. Happy Days – Random positive quotes. They’re short – so the synthetic voice might be palatable for some. “Alexa, open Happy Days.”

My pet peeve is that this is one of those areas that a synthetic voice is not a good match. It’s hard to get relaxed when listening to a Polly voice. So the best of these skills uses sounds & music – or human voices…

April 1, 2019

Accessing Alexa Wherever You Go

As this Wired article – entitled “Everything is an Alexa Device Now” – notes, you can bring your Amazon device with you whereever you go (or you can have one sitting there for you when you get there). Here’s an excerpt:

Amazon introduced nearly a dozen new Alexa-powered products to the world. Some, like this year’s Echo Dot, were standard upgrades to familiar products. But in the bulk of the newcomers you could see the full payoff of Amazon’s longstanding strategy to put Alexa in more than just speakers. It’s now in nearly everything. Which is exactly where it needs to be if it wants to stay ahead of Google.

Products like the Echo Wall Clock and AmazonBasics Microwave—both of which connect to Echo speakers over Bluetooth — elicited jokes, mostly Kellyanne Conway-related. But they also seem specifically intended as statement pieces, proof that Amazon can squeeze Alexa into the most unexpected of places. “The team started with the most popular appliance that’s out there today. It’s also one of the hardest devices to integrate with,” Amazon wrote in a liveblog of its own event, which apparently is a thing now. If Amazon can make this work, imagine what else it has cooking.

Some of these new items are bound to be more popular than others, but the notion that the devices can be anywhere you go is what I think what Amazon wants to accomplish. That they can handle your needs anywhere – so they should be the voice provider that you rely on…

March 18, 2019

How Customer Service Is Different With Voice

For me, I absolutely hate calling the airlines and being thrown into a seemingly endless wait to get what I want. I imagine I’m not alone in my feelings. And it’s not just the airlines. Many companies use automated voice systems for their telephonic customer service. That’s been the case for many years.

But customer service through voice assistants can – and should be – a different experience. First of all, there’s a different expectation. When I call up one of my providers on the phone, I’m expecting to reach a real human being. Even though I know that’s not going to be the case. That’s just what I expect. When I ask a voice assistant for customer service help at one of my providers, I have no expectation of talking to a human. I know I’m talking to a bot. So right out of the box, expectations are on the opposite end of the spectrum.

That said, there are limitations. As voice grows in prominence, customers are going to expect high levels of service – even if they know they’re talking to a bot. They’re going to expect conversational design – not something that is stilted & unresponsive. As Susan & Scot Westwater discuss in their “Pragmatic Talk” podcast (episode 7), providing customer service by voice can be harder to accomplish than expected. With voice, the customer is driving the discussion – because that’s the way that voice assistants work.

As the Westwaters explain, customer service via voice is sort of the opposite of traditional FAQs – because FAQs essentially are you predicting what the customer will ask. When you provide a set of FAQs, you are actually feeding the customer the questions they should be asking. But in reality, many customers don’t even know what to ask. So with voice, you can’t “feed” questions to your customers for them to ask – so you can’t fully predict what will be asked. The customer guides & drives. So voice is quite a bit different than FAQs.

March 13, 2019

Should You Build a “Skill” or an “App”?

Because he’s been in the field so long, this Voicebot.ai podcast with Dr. Ahmed Bouzid – Witlingo’s CEO – taught me many things. One thing I learned are some loose guidelines about when something should be built as an app for mobile devices, as compared to a skill for voice assistants. Sometimes an app is better than voice – and vice versa. It depends on the activity & the context.

According to Ahmed, something that contains multi-step transactions is a better fit for an app. Definitely if its four or more transactions – and probably even less. In other words, if the layout for your activity is a multi-step decision tree, think app. Sometimes you just can’t turn a mobile app into voice.

In comparison, many educational activities – particularly if they require memorization – are a better fit with voice. For example, cramming for an exam – where you have a limited amount of time to learn something – is a voice-friendly activity. If something is easier for you to learn by speaking & listening, voice beats visual…

February 28, 2019

How Long is a Good Story?

As noted in this article, Alexa has a variety of skills that turn her into a story teller, from calming bedtime tales to spooky horror stories. You can listen to interactive tales that you influence by answering questions, playing a character – or even directing the action. Pretty cool stuff – and we’ll review some of that amazing stuff in the near future.

But for now, the question is “how long is the optimal story?” In a sense, I equate that with “how long is the optimal podcast?” One potential problem with both voice assistants and podcasts is that there is no mandatory cut-off. Although that allows for creators to be creative, I find that too many podcasts take that liberty and run with it. Too many run near the hour-long mark.

In today’s society, with such short attention spans – and so many forms of entertainment, information & education available – time almost always is of the essence. My fallback position in taping my own podcasts – nearly 500 over a decade – is that “shorter is always better.” Most of my podcasts are under 12 minutes. I try not to ask my guests more than 4-5 questions. And to be honest, I wish they were no longer than 5 minutes. But that can be hard to accomplish with two people engaged in a dialogue. So consider this – the average, one-way commute in our country is 26.1 minutes. I would definitely shoot for that to be the cap when taping your podcast or story…

February 15, 2019

Can Voice Assistants Help With Loneliness?

Will your voice assistant(s) become your best friend? Don’t laugh. Like dogs, cats & other pets, they may be giving you the unconditional love you seek as they become more sophisticated. Who can forget Joaquin Phoenix in 2013’s “Her”? Anyway, they may provide some help to those that feel lonely – which is pretty much everybody.

Anyway, at least three universities – Saint Louis University, Northeastern University and Arizona State University  – installed smart speakers in some (or all) of their dorm rooms last year. During his keynote at the “Alexa Conference” last month, Bret Kinsella of “voicebot.ai” noted that the schools were finding an increased general sense of happiness and other well-being benefits from the speaker installations.

And that’s even with the interaction with the speakers being fairly limited in some cases. For example, per this set of FAQs, Saint Louis U. restricts the Echos they installed to providing only public information, such as campus events & sport schedules. They are not allowing any personal information to be involved. I imagine once more “freedom of voice” is permitted, students will use their Echos much more often. And maybe even become friends…