Siri and Voice UIs Are Reshaping Consumer Expectations

Ever since Siri was released with the iPhone 4S last Fall -- although it seems much longer than that now -- it has been reshaping expectations both among consumers and to some degree in the enterprise. Few people are aware of all the work going on around virtual assistants and customer care in the enterprise. It's a very dynamic segment and Siri has become a reference point. 

In addition to Siri there are dozens of voice-based intelligent assistants for Android. There are also Siri competitors in the iTunes store, including Assitant (Speaktoit), Evi (TrueKnowledge) and Kngine. But there are probably about 12 - 15 more apps that present themselves as voice tools or intelligent assistants. 

Having a voice UI and/or intelligent assistant is now becoming a strategic capability for smartphones -- even "table stakes." Witness Samsung's new "S-Voice." However, while the Samsung GS III has received rave reviews, S-Voice has emerged as its weak link. LG is also introducing a voice capability for its handsets. It's not clear why they're doing this because Google's speech recognition and voice actions are baked into the Android OS.

Some of the smaller consumer-facing "assistant" companies and startups (e.g., Speaktoit) become near-term takeover targets as carriers and OEMs recognize the new importance of voice as a UI and, beyond voice, the need to offer an intelligent assistant capability to match Siri and fulfill the new expectations it's creating.

Google and Microsoft have yet to move beyond pure voice input and embrace the "personal assistant" metaphor, though Google has been working on something for some time -- often referred to as "Majel," after Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's wife. Nuance, which powers Siri, has Vlingo and Dragon Go!, which sit between what Google and Microsoft offer and Siri in terms of capabilities. 

Notwithstanding intelligent keyboards such as Swype (another Nuance product now) and Swiftkey, voice will emerge over the next year or two as the primary interface for most tasks on smartphones. Most iPhone users use only limited functionality on Siri and Apple has been trying to educate them about its full capabilities. By contrast, keyboards are likely to become secondary tools or used in very specific situations: entering numbers or correcting typos. 

As one colleague put it late last year, if speech is the "new mouse" then voice is the new touch.