Home & Office

Will voice control disrupt living room electronics?

Is 'multi-variate and unstructured “search” is the answer to find the right content'?

Voice command in the living room 'makes so much sense in home electronics and why it will dominate the living room,' claims Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy and former AMD VP.

According to Moorhead, because we have so many options when it comes to entertainment (hundreds of channels, and unlimited viewing thanks to services like Netflix), 'multi-variate and unstructured “search” is the answer to find the right content' and that natural language voice search and control is the answer.

Let's put the whole Apple TV rumor thing on one side for a moment (I still don't see why Apple needs to build a TV ... almost everything here could be done with a device connected to a TV) and concentrate on voice in a non-Siri context (it's too easy to speculate pointlessly as to what Apple will or won't do with Siri just yet) and ask some key questions:

Q: Would voice search/control work be beneficial in the living room?

A: Yes, but ...

Q: But what?

A: But it has to work, and it has to be close to flawless. 99% accuracy would be frustrating. It would need to be closer to 99.9% accurate. It would also need to be fast, as fast and searching an EPG (electronic program guide).

Q: Why?

A: Because as Moorhead points out, people will lose interest in in quickly if it's a pain to use.

Q: Where would voice search help?

A: It would allow for user-friendly search. One of the problems with most search mechanisms is that they rely on typed-in search terms. People don't want to be typing into their TVs in the living room.

Q: What about voice control?

A: I'm more dubious when it comes to voice control. 'Volume up,' 'volume down' and 'change channel' and so on just don't feel all that practical to me. Maybe this is where a gestural system like Microsoft's Kinect comes into play.

Q: Are technologies such as Siri up to the job?

A: No, I don't think so.

Q: Why hasn't anyone done this already?

A: Good question! Because the technology isn't ready.

I agree with Moorhead that voice search and control would certainly disrupt entertainment technology, especially if it works well. But I do have some serious reservations.

  • Control - One remote allows one person to be in control. How does voice or gestures change that dynamic?
  • Complexity - Does voice/gesture control reduce or add to the current level of complexity?
  • Legacy devices - Does having one device being voice controlled while everything else is driven by a remote actually help?
  • Backup - What's the backup mechanism for when voice/gestures fail? A remote control? Nothing?
  • Ecosystem - Will it be a walled garden (like iTunes) or will users be able to add and customize what's on offer?
  • Demand - Is there actual, real consumer demand for voice control or is this all in the minds of pundits and analysts?

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