The tech industry is obsessed with its hunt for finding the next big thing after the smartphone.
Last year, it was wearables, like the Apple Watch and FitBit.
Before that, it was virtual reality.
Before that, it was Google Glass.
Each one of those was supposed to change the the way we interact with technology. And each one of those has failed to deliver so far.
There’s still a sliver of hope for some of those, I guess. But let’s be honest. We’re addicted to our smartphones, and it’s going to take something truly groundbreaking to unhook us.
So, what’s everyone geeked out about in 2016? Voice control and artificial intelligence. (Think Amazon’s Echo and the upcoming Google Home, web-connected speakers with digital assistants that live inside of them.)
Out of all the wild ideas to change how we compute, voice control has the most promise.
Mary Meeker, a well-respected analyst at the VC firm KPCB, released her annual “State of the Web” report this week, where she discusses how close we are to a shift in computing more with our voice, especially in the home or car.
This will change your mind.
First, here’s how human interaction with computers has evolved over the years. We’ve gone from punch cards to keyboards to touchscreens. The final frontier? Voice. Siri gave us a taste of voice control when it launched in 2011, but it’s still not smart enough to let you do everything you want.
Now we have the Amazon Echo, a screen-less computer that can mimic a lot of smartphone functions, all controlled with your voice. Amazon lets third parties tie into the Echo, which means developers can write “apps” that respond to commands. Uber, Capital One, Spotify, Domino’s, and so many more are already on the platform. Apple is thinking about letting third parties integrate with Siri too, which we could see as soon as this summer, according to The Information.
Why is this a big deal?
Voice is often so much easier than unlocking your phone, launching an app, and tapping around to find the thing you want. “Alexa, call me an Uber,” takes, what, a second? Two, at the most. It removes practically all barriers from what you want to do. If you’ve ever used an Echo, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Phones won’t go away, but for many tasks, just saying what you want to happen out loud to an intelligent digital assistant will be a better experience.
But there are still some challenges. Most digital assistants today aren’t smart or accurate enough to complete tasks 100% of the time. They’re getting better, and have the potentially to get exponentially better in the near future.
That’s the next big challenge: feeling confident that your task will be completed on the first try without some kind of visual confirmation on your phone or computer. In fact, Apple acquired a company called VocalIQ last year that has the technology to do just that.