Last year, our predictions for voice technology ranged from new use cases and improved experiences to the medium’s potential role in politics and evolving assistant emotions. While some of our forecasts were ahead of their time – Siri didn’t quite have her leapfrog moment, the voice-enabled workforce is still just beginning to take shape, and voice experiences haven’t even gotten close to addictive yet – we stand by the general directions of our prognoses. Voice technology is maturing quickly, but new behaviors and new business take time to develop, and we may be a few years out from seeing our 2019 predictions fully manifest. As they say, hindsight is 20/20.
Speaking of 2020, it’s time for a new batch of predictions for this coming year. Below are our thoughts on what we’ll see from voice in 2020 – from new assistants to surface-specific maturity and advanced features coming to a smart speaker near you.
Voice Permeates Big Cultural Moments, Starting with the Super Bowl
This past year’s Super Bowl commercials were rife with voice assistant allusions, showing that voice continues to permeate the cultural zeitgeist. However, brands stopped short of doing any true voice-enabled activations as part of their Super Bowl campaigns. That will change this year. Brands will seek to find new ways to be memorable in America’s living rooms by issuing utterances as calls-to-action within their TV spots, and there will be lots of creative power behind the voice experiences that consumers unlock on game day.
More Brands Develop Proprietary, Niche Smart Assistants
On the heels of Beeb, Erica, and Hey Mercedes, 2020 will see brands in many industries seeking more control over their voice assistant footprint – spanning data and the customer experience – in the form of creating “owned” voice assistants in their brand’s image. There will be another set of major brands – from automotive to consumer electronics, financial services to QSR – that introduce their own voice agents, with their own personas and voices, in the year to come. The Voice Interoperability Initiative will begin to connect these more disparate, specialist assistants with more generalist intelligences like Alexa, so as to make them more useful in more places.
Siri Launches a Voice App Marketplace for Brands and Developers.
We predicted that last year would be Siri’s leapfrog moment, but unfortunately we were premature in this assessment. Despite this, we’re doubling down on our prediction as 2020 seems ripe for Apple to make their move. Since we last checked-in on Siri we’ve seen hands-free access implemented, Shortcuts functionality expanded, a new AirPods Pro line launched, AR Glasses development announced and a partnership with Walmart for voice ordering formalized. That’s a lot of innovation for one assistant. However, one critical ecosystem component that has yet to emerge is a marketplace and the ability for 3rd party developers to create experiences for Siri. With some VC firms estimating that making this move could drive the voice experience market toward a trillion dollars, we don’t expect Apple to sit it out much longer.
The Voice-Enabled Hearables Market Expands
With a glut of companies manufacturing hearables directly, we predict an optimal bluetooth hearable set for under $75 available by the end of 2020. To qualify as a proper voice-enabled hearable it will have Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, Bixby or a combination of multiple assistants available and be able to sync with your mobile device. While there has been considerable activity in the space from Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Samsung and others, the current products available to consumers sit at high price points. With the focus of voice assistant experiences expanding beyond the home and smart speakers, tech companies and device manufacturers will want to attract on-the-go users. In order to grow a larger user base, a mainstream hearable offering will be key.
In-Car Assistance Gets Serious
Big brands will develop car-specific voice applications, and leading voice apps meant to be used across many surfaces (smart speaker, mobile, car) will be responsive to the car as a surface and adjust their content and interaction models accordingly. Cars were already a major touchpoint for voice in 2019. As of January 2019, Voicebot reported the number of U.S. adults that have tried a voice assistant in the car (114 million) was double those with access to smart speakers (57.8 million). The increase in native assistant embedding in cars, as well as aftermarket products like Echo Auto, will compel skill and action developers to take designing experiences for the car far more seriously. Usage of third-party apps in the car will be as high or higher than smart speakers.
Voice Assistants Assume More Agency & Drive Personalized Experiences
Alexa Hunches and Google Duplex will move from fringe features to core drivers of engagement. Users will begin getting more personalized recommendations based on both their behavior patterns, but assistants will begin more proactively soliciting input from users on what they’re interested in doing. The combination of passive and active data gathering will support far more personalized experiences with voice assistants, but also the ability to suggest and take actions proactively on behalf of the user. This will make voice assistants more useful without necessarily requiring more user effort.
Authentication Grows Up
With concerns about privacy dominating headlines in 2019, we expect voice platforms to take guidance from mobile features to ensure more secure experiences. Capabilities like multi-factor authentication that include biometrics such as fingerprint or FaceID log-ins will surely influence 2020 features for voice users. Will we also start using voice as a key component of the biometric ID system? If so, providers will need answers to combat anti-spoofing and hacking through solutions such as continuous verification. However it’s tackled, we see security as a big opportunity for voice-first players next year.
Celebrity Voice Synthesis Goes Mainstream
The voices of John Legend, Issa Rae, and Samuel L. Jackson are merely the tip of the iceberg. In 2020, we will see a “known” voice (celebrity, athlete, etc) be recreated via voice synthesis into an indistinguishable synthetic voice to be used to market a brand or in a high-profile activation. The voice experience will give flexibility to the publisher in the form of custom dynamic content. The talent will not have to record unique voice-over scripts instead the voice app will leverage the synthetic voice for total optionality in content.
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