Alexa, What Does the Future Hold?

by Chris Fairbairn

Thursday, August 17th, 2017

Why Voice Technology is on the cusp of domination – and why this PR consultant believes business should be paying close attention

Amazon Echo PR consultant Edinburgh

From: https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/25219116374

HAVING recently acquired an Amazon Echo I am now a believer – voice is the future tech that will define the next generation.

While this is admittedly no maverick prediction, it is hardly unanimous.

A great deal of debate has taken place in recent months within the PR, tech and marketing commentariat as to the next ‘big’ tech development that will become as ubiquitous as the smartphone.

One camp is staunchly arguing the case for virtual – or more likely augmented – reality, with the other pointing to the advancements of voice technology, across a range of devices, as the real future of tech.

Why voice matters for business

Just as smartphones heralded the dawn of apps, mobile-friendly websites and the proliferation of video and visual content, accelerating advancements in artificial intelligence has meant that voice tech – (a device that can respond to spoken commands and provide an answer) is already having big implications that businesses might want to be paying very close attention to.

The creation and subsequent success of Google spawned an entire industry: Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) with the sole task of getting clients onto the first page of key search terms.

It has also been reported that already, 20 per cent of searches last year took place through voice commands, a number that will only grow.

The importance of this is crucial, for instance a written search may look something like: “top French restaurant Edinburgh”. When using voice and asking a device for an answer, that search is more likely to be in a form akin to: “Alexa, what is the best French restaurant near me? Similar yes, but that subtle difference is important – for it is more conversational.

By its nature, Google (other search engines do exist – just) wants to provide top level responses that fit the questions being asked. It is therefore likely that websites will have to be optimised carefully to answer questions that are more specific and fully formed.

So while being on the top page has typically been considered a good result in SEO practice, the battle will now be on for the most suitable answer – a potentially tough battle where being second is as good as being last.

While we don’t yet have the definitive answers yet, it would be a smart move to pay close attention to the content of your website – is it clear, concise, regularly updated and performing well on traditional search engine queries? If not speak to an agency with the ability to provide this content.

Podcasting could be another smart choice

These smart devices by their nature are perfect to boost what is already being defined as the age of the podcast – as they are able to play on command, remember the last point you played up until, and cut through the confusion that most podcast apps still seem to possess.

If your business isn’t already looking at the top industry podcasts, now would certainly not be a bad time to start, providing thought leadership in this linear format.

The resurgence of podcasts is only going to grow with devices like Amazon Echo, Google Home, or Apple HomePod becoming part of the furniture.

Return of the Big Read: Our article dissects the data that shows why the decision makers are spurning other formats in favour of in-depth thought leadership

Own Experience

It is perhaps easy to read around the subject, take on the views of the foremost experts and come to your own conclusions, however as my introduction stated – I have acquired an Amazon Echo and am experiencing voice tech every day for myself.

So while I don’t yet have the full smart home setup, including an alarm system, smart light bulbs or a thermostat controlled from my new voice assistant, (on the way!) I have found her to be incredibly usable and versatile.

The strange thing is how quickly it becomes normal to say ‘Alexa’, whether in company or alone!

As a self-confessed media addict, the flash briefing skill is incredibly useful – a customisable selection of headlines from your favourite news sources (I currently have BBC, Sky News, Local Weather and the Daily Show) ensuring I never miss a beat, something I call on at least twice most days.

Similarly, being able to simply ask Alexa to start up a playlist, a song, or an album through the surprisingly high quality speaker is a real quality worth the price alone.

Want to know who won the most Oscars last year – simply ask and Alexa will tell you.

Being a terrible multi-tasker Alexa’s simplest features are arguably its best – call out for a timer while cooking or set an alarm without fiddling around on a phone. These all seem so innocuous – but that small gain from not having to get a device out of my pocket makes it just so damn usable.

Conclusion

While VR/AR is undoubtedly flashy and will have its place, it just does not yet have the usability that voice brings that gives it the potential to transform daily life.

Simply having to wear special glasses that provide an augmented or virtual reality, to my mind, holds this tech back– whereas it won’t take much for even public voice commands to become part of the every day.

That is why I believe voice technology is the era-defining tech advancement – and one that businesses have to be considering, whether internally or with consultants.

A conclusion you’ll be surprised to hear that I reached without having to ask Alexa.

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Chris Fairbairn of Scottish public relations agency, Holyrood PR in Edinburgh

Chris Fairbairn

Chris Fairbairn is a PR account manager with award-winning public relations agency Holyrood Partnership. He is part of an expert PR team delivering PR services to a wide range of clients from headquarters in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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