Mobile voice services have finally crossed the chasm thanks to the rise (and rise) Apple Siri — the smart, voice-enabled mobile assistant that connects with our personal data and the wider Internet to manage our daily lives. What is the real impact of Apple on the industry? Where are the opportunities for innovation? Who are the niche companies with good ideas and huge potential? And how will our requirement for a voice interface challenge mobile search and set new demands on customer service?
Our topic is at m-pulse this month is mobile voice, and we examine from a variety of perspectives, beginning with Bill Meisel, the industry go-to guy for all things voice.
By way of background, Bill is the founder of TMA Associates, an independent consultancy providing insights and supporting companies that want to incorporate speech technologies into their offer, or improve their own enterprise efficiency. Bill has also teamed up with the Applied Voice Input Output Society (AVIOS) to organize the Mobile Voice Conference, March 12-14 in San Francisco. With this must-attend just around the corner my co-host Rob Woodbridge and I dedicate this month to mobile voice and celebrate the ‘Year of the Ear’ — to borrow an observation from Mary Meeker’s invaluable trends presentation.
In other segments Rob and I also discuss his pick of hot mobile news. I focus on a new quarterly report from Madvertise, a German mobile ad network present in Germany, Spain and the U.K., and the top trends it sees based on its 1.4 billion page views per month. A key finding: BlackBerry is stronger than we think. The report also draws from data from AppZapp to reveal the best selling app categories for the iPhone and iPad.
Voice reaches the tipping point
Voice may have overpromised for over a decade, but Bill tells us it has arrived full force thanks to increases in computing behavior, a shift in our behavior and — most important — the popularity of Siri on the iPhone 4S.
But Siri is more than just voice recognition software (licensed from Nuance). Siri will be a super-tough act to follow because it has combined speech recognition and natural language processing and tightly integrated this with key features on the device (calendar and address book, for example).
As Bill sees it: “This personal assistant model is a paradigm shift.” It’s not about trying to inject human intelligence into a service. It’s about human-like services that harness computer intelligence to do our tasks for us — better and faster — by tapping into the “strengths computing technology has (and always will) in memory and the ability to process a lot of information and do terrific searches.” All the better if they —like Siri—remain robot-like with a good sense of humor.
Are call centers next?
Siri and the fun jokes it tells are just one part of what has us hooked on services that cleverly recognize speech and process using natural language. Bill warns that our familiarity with Siri is will likely whet our appetite for Siri-like services that take the heavy-lifting out of dealing with customer service issues. “A lot of enterprises are going to realize they need a smart personal assistant — and that people are going to expect that.”
Bill shares some examples (such as American Airlines running on Microsoft technology) that show how a voice assistant on our personal devices can improve service (the first big step to boosting customer loyalty).
The upshot: pressure on lots of companies to create these applications so that we can use our mobile devices to streamline our customer service requests. Imagine an Amazon assistant that can take book order, track shipping — the works. “That’s going to be expected,” Bill says.
And that’s where the problems start.
Call centers, marketing, IT, advertising, CRM — all of these departments and tasks currently exist in silos. It will take resource and a rethink to get companies thinking about offering personal assistants that are smart, task-oriented and consistent with the brand. It helps that platforms such as Android and vendors such as Nuance enable developers to integrate voice recognition into apps. But, in my view, it’s the ability to tightly integrate this with phone functions that will distinguish the leaders from the also-rans.
Voice battle heats up
So, who are the ones to watch? Apple is a given, but Google, Microsoft and Nuance are making great gains. He is particularly bullish about Nuance, which has made some ‘smart’ acquisitions (pun intended) and also sharpened it’s focus on solutions that bring mobile and call center services together to enhance customer service.
Still, it’s too early to call this one, so Bill suggests we strap in for an exciting time ahead. As he sees it: “There’s going to be a battle to own the customer and smart voice assistants are going to be a big part of it. We’re talking about a lot of money here, guys.”
Why so much disruption and competition? Because voice search integrated with the Web effectively bypasses Google, getting us to the answers without exposing us to the results and ads that have made Google an advertising company first and a search company second (Let’s not forget that advertising accounts for the lion’s share of Google revenues and the 4Q2011 decline in click prices was enough to disappoint investors.)
At the other end of the spectrum, Bill reminds us that the massive opportunities in in-car and home entertainment have also created a new battleground in consumer tech. Instead of searching what is on TV, we’ll ask our smart assistants. No wonder companies are jockeying for position to voice-enable our TVs. From Samsung’s strong showing at CES to Nuance’s clever acquisition of Vlingo, companies are pulling together an arsenal of capabilities to fight it out.
Madvertise European trends
Meantime, I recounts some highlights from M-Days in Frankfurt, a show that gave me a chance to meet with some cool companies and innovators. Top of my list: catching up with Marcus Hamacher and Jan-Hendrik Seyfahrt over at Apprupt, an ad network focused on major German publishers that also pioneered the call to action click-to-calendar., and connecting with Sascha Brenk, who heads up AppZapp —a combination bargain guide/mobile app search service that delivers excellent insights into mobile apps and what people everywhere are looking for.
AppZapp also feeds data into the new Madvertise quarterly report I present in this vodcast. The report zeroes in on U.K. and providing some insights into the devices and the rise of apps. One point of interest for marketers who think they can dismiss BlackBerry. Based on what Madvertise sees across its network BlackBerry held a leading position in 2011.
This dovetails with an increase in BlackBerry sales in the U.K. reported by Gizmodo. The blog stated that “based on BlackBerry and sales data compiled by analyst firm GfK, phones running the BlackBerry OS took 26.3 percent of the UK smartphone market during December of 2011, with the company saying it also managed an average market share of 27.7 per cent per month throughout 2011.”
The report also provides some insights into the ad spending growth across verticals in Europe and the top five app categories for the iPhone and iPad. Interestingly, education and lifestyle apps are stealing the lead — no doubt because of these platforms bring learning alive. I encourage you to download the report here (PDF), and share your thoughts with all of us over at UNTETHER.tv.
We raise our ‘Goblet of Rock’ (a toast to those who rock)to Deckster, an Ottawa-based company that has created probably finest iPod nano timepiece available. The Deckster hand-crafted design allows you to easily insert or remove of your iPod nano. Talk about a fashion statement!
Check out our interview with Bill Meisel on m-pulse
Next week we catch up with Roberto Pieraccini, Director and President at ICSI (the International Computer Science Institute) and author of The Voice and the Machine, slated for publication next month.
Look for m-pulse for your weekly dose of what matters most in mobile every Friday. I pick up every Monday here at MobileGroove with analysis and a summary of key takeaways.
Thanks for your positive feedback, shout outs and RTs. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or my co-host Rob Woodbridge, founder and owner of UNTETHER.tv, with your good ideas and great companies.