Apple's Siri for iPhone and iPad, Google Now for Android, Samsung S-Voice for its Android phones and tablets, and Microsoft's Xbox/Bing voice command have all played a role in popularizing the use of voice control. Forrester’s workforce survey reveals that 37% of information workers who have smartphones say they use voice command at least occasionally. So voice control is already a mass-market behavior.
But users haven’t truly embraced voice control just yet: Only 3% of information workers say they "use it all the time," while only 1% claim it's their "preferred way to use a phone." When they do use voice control, it’s for short-task computing activities like sending a text, conducting a quick search, or activating maps and navigation. As of today, voice control remains a nice-to-have, an adjunct to “real” computing interfaces.
But in a new Forrester report, we argue that voice control itself isn’t the main story. Rather, it’s about the new breed of data-rich intelligence – which we call intelligent agents – that will bring voice control to the masses.
Nuance Communications’ Project Wintermute offers a tantalizing preview of how intelligent agents will change computing. Ambitiously named for an artificial intelligence (AI) character in William Gibson's classic novel Neuromancer, Wintermute links to a multitude of digital relationships hosted in the cloud, including social networks, bank accounts, and ecommerce providers. Wintermute aims to solve user problems and anticipate future needs. For example, asking Project Wintermute to "put the game on" results in an educated inference by the intelligent agent either based on immediate experience (like a recent request for a score on your phone) or based on personal preferences and your broader digital footprint.
In the not-so-distant future, voice controlled intelligent agents will both drive and be driven by the emergence of wearable devices. The already-familiar command “Okay, Glass” used by Google Glass will link to a broader array of services. It will also anticipate needs based on location, your personal history, and what your friends are doing.
Intelligent agents will also help users pre-screen, limit, and curate their life choices. For example, a user can ask an intelligent agent to help her purchase a new dress for an important event. The agent will return with options determined by her history (e.g., her past purchases, favorite color, preferred retailers and brands) and by educated, data-driven guesses (e.g., the preferences of people in her social network, public information about the event she is attending, the geography of the event). In this example, the agent could curate a set of possible dresses for the user to consider purchasing.
In response, retailers will need to become early adopters of vCommerce. What happens when an intelligent agent prescreens and curates all of a consumer's shopping choices? vCommerce, a system in which the retailer must find a way to please the intelligent agent before presenting its goods to the prospective buyer. vCommerce has the promise to empower shoppers via digital intermediaries. Retailers who become early adopters by establishing relationships with intelligent agent vendors via APIs can gain first-mover advantage in a market that won't develop for a few years, but which will eventually be important.
J. P. Gownder is a Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research. You can follow him on Twitter at @jgownder