Apple HomePod, voice search and the rise of the AI PA

Jason Dooris says HomePod – Apple’s venture into the smartspeaker market – confirms that the AI-powered personal assistant is the future of search.

Jason Dooris photo-1For the past decade, SEO has gone from being a haphazard means of getting your page to the top of Google’s pile by simply slamming copy with repetitive keywords to a sophisticated, quality-based system that rewards content people actually want to engage with.

And over the next decade, we’ll pretty much throw that system out the window.

At Apple’s WWDC in early June, CEO Tim Cook took to the stage to announce a series of new gadgets and gizmos from the company that changed the world with the iPod, then completely revolutionised it with the iPhone, then… well, hasn’t done a great deal to mix things up since.

But at this year’s WWDC, Cook presented the fawning fan boys and girls with a piece of tech that could yet again shift the way we interact with the world: HomePod, to be released in December (how convenient – just in time for Christmas).

To be fair, it wasn’t really a game-changing device at all – Google Home was 13 months ahead, announced in May 2016 and hitting the market last November, while Amazon have been flogging their Alexa smartspeaker since November 2014.

Apple’s announcement that they will be hitting the smartspeaker scene is not necessarily to say that they will dominate the market, or even significantly shift it and mould it in their own image. Rather, it confirms for the doubters out there that the AI-powered personal assistant is absolutely the future of search.

While its emphasis on sound quality means you could argue Apple’s offering is more of a rival to Sonos’ speaker range than Amazon or Google’s smartspeaker efforts, the HomePod isn’t just there to play your tunes, it ‘also helps with everyday household questions and tasks‘.

The Cupertino company’s foray into the burgeoning voice search market is acknowledgement that it’s where the market is going. They are rarely inventors of technology – MP3 players existed before the iPod, and there were smartphones before the iPhone – but Apple have an uncanny knack for knowing what’s going to blow up.

Cook and Co are preparing to clean up those who haven’t yet been won over by Amazon or Google – or those who have been waiting for a piece of AI-friendly hardware that kept them in Apple’s famously closed ‘ecosystem’.

Of course, in this case, it didn’t take a crystal ball for Apple to realise a piece of tech that enhanced the AI PA experience was the way of the future.

Stats overwhelmingly suggest that voice is going to replace typing-in online queries. In 2016, 20% of mobile queries were made via voice, with accuracy now measured at about 95%.

What’s more, while Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and Google Assistant can be clunky from time to time, this perceived ‘clunkiness’ is a reflection of the fact we’re living in times where consumer expectations are now ahead of what technology can consistently deliver. The fact is, while an imperfect device is frustrating, it’s pretty impressive that we’re becoming frustrated with a piece of technology that understands, answers and can even anticipate our needs.

Furthermore, AI PA providers are aware of these frustrations and are working hard at smoothing out the bumps in interfaces. And, as per Ray Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns, while we may measure growth based on what’s come before, what’s to come will grow and improve at exponentially faster rates.

And AI is already damn impressive. Look at ELSA (English Language Speech Assistant), the free app which aims to teach users how to speak English. But rather than giving you words and phrases to blindly repeat, ELSA listens to the speaker’s responses and not only gives the correct pronunciation, it can also recommend tips on tongue and mouth placement to get it right.

Or, to bring it all a bit closer to home, think about the benefits of AI purely in terms of using your phone while behind the wheel. According to The Courier Mail, the Australian Automobile Association ran a nationwide survey, in which 79% of respondents answered that mobile phones were the leading cause of Australia’s road fatalities, ‘ahead of speeding, drink driving, using drugs and road rage’.

While that’s just drivers’ opinions, it stacks up considering that during the 12 months ending January 2017, the 1290 deaths on Aussie roads was an increase of 7 %t compared to the previous year. More phones with more bells and whistles distracting more drivers would lead to more accidents.

But removing the distraction factor, by simply speaking to our phones as if it were a passenger rather than staring at it like a TV, the fatality rate would logically start heading south again. And, from an admittedly cynical perspective, that gives mobile marketers a whole new audience to think about appealing to: drivers.

In short, Siri’s not been on the market for six years; while the birthday of the modern internet is hard to accurately date, if we place it at 1995, think about the massive changes we’ve seen on the Worldwide Web since 2001. AI PAs are set to explode, and will completely change the industry.

While it’s never a good idea to abandon the technology that works now in favour of what will work next year – something’s got to keep the lights on in the meantime – it’s similarly be foolish to ignore where the market is going.

Voice is going to be massive, and marketers need to get on board – AI is going to be at the forefront of our future.

 

Jason Dooris is CEO, Atomic 212°

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