AI & Automation

M-Pulse ANALYSIS: How Will Battle Around Mobile Voice Play Out?

13 min read

m-pulse video showShould we brace ourselves for a new battle as companies (Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nuance) jockey for position to control the voice interface and our personal search/assistance experience? We continue our look at the opportunities and competition around mobile voice with Roberto Pieraccini, industry veteran and author of The Voice in the Machine.

In other segments we discuss the wider issue of personal privacy,  following the news that social app Path has been uploading user data to its servers without our consent. Rob Woodbridge, founder and my co-host at m-pulse, recounts a checklist of things to consider when building privacy into your minimum viable product. And we both find a perfect fit with a brilliant presentation— whose time has come (again) — from Jonathan MacDonald, a thought-leader and entrepreneur in digital media perhaps best known for his passionate views on the 3Ps (Permission: people will decide what brand messages they interact with; Privacy: people will decide where their data is collected and how it is used; and Preference: people will decide what content they find relevant). More about that further down in this post.

I also highlight some recent Lightspeed Research that provides insights into the increasing requirement of U.K. consumers for instant gratification and information access. Finally, I raise my Goblet of Rock to salute two cool companies I met during the M-Days in Frankfurt: AppZapp, a sophisticated app search engine that shows us bargains (based on tracking price drops),  and Apprupt, an ad network focused on major German publishers that also pioneered the call to action click-to-calendar. What an effective way for brands to insert themselves into my daily routine!

What is speech really good for?

Voice has been around for decades, and Roberto — who has been in the industry for 25+ years — uses our interview to recount some of the milestones. But it’s the combination of speech recognition technology and natural language understanding that is moving voice into the mainstream. As Roberto sees it: Natural language is a “powerful tool” that finally allows us to express complicated requests and ideas. The way is clear for personal search and assistance — and the writing is on the wall for companies that stick to key word search.

But the intelligence of search services like Siri can’t hide the fact that the industry still has to solve issues around background noise, accents and the sheer complexity of our spoken language. “Siri is extremely beautiful work and engineering,” Roberto observes. “But try to say something complex and Siri won’t understand it.” This is why Roberto’s work as Director of the International Computer Science Institute (ICSI) is about building more sophisticated models that unleash the true power of voice.

Summer of speech recognition

Roberto PieracciniWe’re all talking about Siri, but there’s a real danger that we could come to expect too much too soon. Right now, Roberto tells us there is “a new energy in speech research,” with everyone wanting to build a Siri-like app. Siri is fun, and the star of popular culture and comedy skits, but our admiration of voice enabled service could fuel market hype. If future voice services fail to entertain and deliver, then we could see the advance of “another winter of voice recognition,” when we should all be enjoying a great summer.

Roberto is ready for the beach. He is optimistic that voice will replace our remote controls. “It will be speech, not keyboards” across all the platforms and devices that define our lives (phones, PCs, tablets, TVs, cars — everything).

Roberto is also convinced that the advance of speech will force players to agree on standards, not fight over them. After all, standards are the first step to creating a market, and making money, in every industry.

Sure, it’s tough for companies to turn off the natural urge to compete and command, but Roberto leaves us with a vision of the not-so-distant future opportunities that makes business sense.

Once we have standards the way will be clear for companies to choose where they want to play (and win). Voice is complex and we’ll want apps tailored to deliver us what we need. Watch a movie and want to ‘ask’ the TV who the actor is — and use that as a jumping off point for an entertainment focused search/assistance experience. Yes — there WILL have to be an app for that.

Path & our personal privacy

Rob deep dives into the public blowout around Path, reminding us that the future of the industry will not be decided by technology. It will be determined by our very human requirements for simple, transparent services we can trust — and the companies that respect the integrity of our personal data.

To drive home this point Rob walks us through a checklist and a post by Jeff Bacon, Director of Mobile Strategy at bitHeads Inc. It outlines how companies need to conduct themselves (and their business) if they want to win our trust.

Why do companies need our trust? Because companies that want us to buy need our buy-in. As I have written in the Netsize Guide by Gemalto, only a relationship built on trust will provide companies the access to the customer insights and information that will allow them to develop and deliver the applications, devices, services and infrastructure that will allow them to stay relevant, competitive and profitable.

Our discussion of privacy is a perfect fit with a 2008 presentation from Jonathan MacDonald (that is even more pertinent today). By way of background, Jonathan, is also co-founder of this fluid world, a boutique consultancy that achieves strategic and commercial results for clients by offering services based on broad horizontal thinking and deep vertical understanding.

Quite simply, Jonathan sums it up best.

the future of small print

I encourage you to check out the complete presentation here.

U.K. consumers want instant access…

Regular viewers will know I look at the people side of the equation and the data points that provide us insight into how mobile is impacting our lives at all levels. This time I connected with Ralph Risk, esteemed colleague and Managing Director EMEA of Lightspeed Research, a research firm delivering data to help clients make informed business decisions.

Rob and I discuss the takeaways of two recent Lightspeed consumer surveys and reports. Social media and news draws from a survey of 1,000 U.K. consumer to explore how people prefer their first news of the day, and their willingness to interact with these media companies via social media.

The report shows how people fulfill the need for instant news (and information gratification) and confirms our hunch that mobile is moving up the list as the device of choice for 16 percent of respondents, taking third place behind laptop (46 percent) and PC (29 percent).

Interestingly, just under one quarter of respondents ‘like’ or ‘follow’ news channels or programs in social networks. Predictably, 18-34 age group is the most likely to interact with media companies on a social network. The same group would also welcome more personalized content.

Ralph tells me this confirms a wider trend that people want instant gratification when it comes to information. The growth of mobile is significant and its impact is profound.

But are confused by 2D barcodes

Another must-read report from Lightspeed delves into how people use/accept 2D barcodes.

The good news: the majority (87 percent) of respondents who have used QR codes think they are useful tools, and 86 percent of this group would like to see more of them (!) The bad news: many respondents are still confused about how to scan codes and what they can expect after the click. Significantly, 16 percent of people who used codes reported problems trying to scan the codes, noting that the app failed to launch properly or simply didn’t detect the code.

Among those respondents that have not used a QR code, lack of interest was the main reason for not bothering to scan barcodes with their mobile phones. In fact, half of the respondents thought that scanning a 2D code would just take them to where they could get more information about a product. And, of course, 2D codes can do much, much more.

lightspeed barcode consumer research

My take: Connect the dots in the data, and marketers have yet to make the benefits to consumers clear. Yes, part of it is about navigating the Web in a new and convenient way thanks to the ‘short cuts’ 2D codes provide us. (Scanning a 2D code on a package to access more nutritional information, for example.) But companies have a lot of consumer education to do if they want to impress us with the breadth of what 2D codes can really deliver. Thinking here of the role of 2D codes in marketing campaigns to reward us with coupons, encourage brand interaction, trigger a mobile video, enable an app download — the works!

Check out Episode #6 of m-pulse here.

Our look at mobile voice wraps up this week with Nuance Mobile and an inside track on the company’s clever strategy to deliver a 360 degree transparent search experience. Look for the vodcast every Friday at,  with deep analysis in a companion post here at MobileGroove.