How voice search is transforming the user interface

Business & tech

Whether adding milk to the grocery list or finding the best tacos, people are comfortable conversing with devices. Just ask Alexa or Siri.

This shift in consumer behavior has spurred disruptive changes in the way we do business. Brands are now looking to invite voice-based conversations with users via web and mobile apps. Studies and reports point to an exponential rate of adoption, with stats like:

Voice user interfaces, search, and technology are changing the user experience and transforming the world around us.

Voice interaction & technology

Voice interaction is a major focal point for process development and it’s all about convenience. A user can bypass the need to type, read, or think—all requirements of the screen-and-keyboard style interfaces. Instead, an individual has their objectives met through conversation.

Voice technology combines powerful platforms into a simplified programmatic interface. Some common voice-based programs include:

  • Natural Language Processing (NLP)
  • Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR)
  • Natural Language Understanding (NLU)
  • Text to Speech (TTS)

UX designers are working to develop solutions that transform the way people interact with machines, systems, and services.

Although the concept of “conversation” seems rather straightforward, the building blocks of technology underneath it are quite complex. Moving beyond the screen-and-keyboard style UI opens a business up to greater levels of accessibility and inclusivity.

How does a voice user interface work?

The general definition of a user interface is the point of human-computer interaction and communication on a webpage, device, or app. A typical user interface can include a display screen, keyboard, mouse, and desktop. It enables a person to effectively control the device they are interacting with.

A successful user interface is clear, concise, and familiar. The system must be responsive and consistent with attractive features that are easy to navigate. Ultimately, a user interface must be efficient and forgiving. This entire process is refined when you add voice technology.

A voice user interface (VUI) makes spoken human interaction with computers possible. It uses speech recognition to understand spoken commands and text to speech to play a reply. These are the primary ways of interacting with virtual assistants on smartphones and speakers.

Voice command device

VUIs are designed to control a voice command device (VCD) which includes everything from a washing machine to automated attendants and automobiles.

Older voice response systems respond to the pressing of keypad buttons via DTMF tones. Newer VCDs, with a full voice user interface, enable callers to speak requests and responses without the need to press buttons.

Newer voice command devices do not require speakers, so they can respond to a variety of voices, regardless of tone, accent, or dialect. These systems are also capable of addressing several voice commands at once, separating vocal messages, and providing the appropriate feedback. By doing this, VCDs more accurately mimic a natural conversation.

How can voice search be used?

As most people are well aware, voice technology has a multitude of applications. Voice search users find different uses for the science depending on their age and information-related needs.

A recent study showed that 62% of people use voice search to look up fact-based information like term definitions, 46% the weather, and 32% the news. It also found that nearly 30% of voice search users aged 18-34 use it to issue commands to their device (i.e. set timer, add to list). This is compared to 19% for those ages 35-54 and 16% for over 55.

Some common uses for voice search technology include:

Form & data input

This is a task that is particularly challenging on mobile devices. Adding a conversation focused on data capture for a simple form can simplify the user experience. It also minimizes input time and errors.

Context-aware voice assistance

All types of businesses can add conversation to their mobile apps from retailers to grocers, malls, and campuses. Users can ask questions like “What aisle has soup?” or “do you sell paint?”

Combining a conversation with geo-location and the purveyor’s own data allows for easier access to context-aware information.

Voice-enabled workflows

Brands can improve efficiency and productivity through voice commands. These interactions help to streamline processes and speed up outcomes.

Developments in voice technology

As voice technology continues to evolve, there are a lot of interesting developments. Now that software teams can add a unified, cross-platform speech-based exchange for customers and users, expect new tools like:

AI-empowered voice-bots

Moving a step beyond a simple chatbot, voice-bots that are powered by artificial intelligence will be able to carry on conversations like never before. A mature AI foundation ensures the interaction is quick and as relaxed as natural conversation. This, in turn, leads to a faster outcome and since it’s intuitive, there’s no significant learning curve for users.

Voice analytics

New voice technology will leverage analytics to monitor emotions. This means the program is working to determine if a user is happy, sad, confused, disappointed, etc. Voice analytics can also track keywords to better inform and direct the interaction.

Voice analytics will also assess the quality and style of user responses and tweak a voice bot’s delivery to an exact situation. In a sense, chatbots will seem more empathetic. These are tasks that are simply impossible for screen-and-keyboard interfaces.

Voice biometric technology

Voice biometric technology enables a safer online experience. Internet privacy, security, and identity protection are major concerns for a user. Your voice is unique. Acoustic characteristics and behavioral features can be monitored and leveraged for authentication and access services.

Summing it up

Voice technology is exciting. It’s made leaps and bounds in the past few decades that have turned science fiction into modern life. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and smart devices are all part of the foundational IoT. They work in conjunction with voice-based software to create a higher level of convenience, save on corporate costs, drive sales, and solidify business and customer relationships.