Voice-First Discreet Charm: Doing More With Less!


After several months of 24 by 7 peddling of the virtues of voice-first devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home as the ultimate anticipation of the upcoming golden age of user experience, many marketers and self-styled voice-first forecasters find suddenly themselves in an embarrassing situation of confusion and uncomfortable backpedaling. Some major players such as Amazon and reportedly Apple are either releasing or allegedly planning to release a new breed of (former?) voice-first devices with tablet-sized screens. The fundamental explanation is the dramatic discovery that voice alone is unable to do the trick for users way too accustomed to relying on visual cues to fulfill their desired intents. Does that mean we are back to normal and the voice-first urban legend already shattered and the "Shamanic" empowerment is vacating the front seat? Time will tell.
Is the voice-first urban legend already shattered? Is the user's "Shamanic" empowerment vacating the front seat?
As I explained several months ago [here] and [here] and [her]: "The current voice interactivity feature is only the first step in a long march on a rocky road full of hills and cliffs." Therefore, I am not at all surprised by the current partial u-turn and actually expect to see even more zigzagging over the upcoming months and years almost by any major player in this specific technology field. For our purposes, what is really important is the adoption of an explicit value-based strategic perspective beyond the trivial and inevitably biased marketing rhetoric. 
It is important to adopt an explicit value-based strategic perspective beyond the trivial and inevitably biased marketing rhetoric. 

Strategic Vision

The strategy that I propose to choose is the vision of an ambient technology that simplifies life, makes it easy and convenient by both maximizing utility and improving experience thank to a growing disentanglement of surroundings by minimizing the need for external input. Such an outlook offers a reference framework to establish a metrics toolset that could be used to evaluate each new product, service or simply feature and the related design. Only a strategic view would allow anticipating with needed confidence whether a new and apparently disruptive product or service would survive and thrive beyond the lighthouse customers acquisition. 
A strategic view would allow anticipating with confidence whether a new and disruptive product or service would survive and thrive beyond the lighthouse customers acquisition.
Generally speaking, Natural Language Understanding is definitely among the decisive components of a futuristic ambient technology as described above. The same we can assert about the Motion, Gesture-control, and the overall self-adapting Sentient Environments. Could visual mediators, namely device screensspecial glasses or electronic contact lenses, participate in the same smart ambient and integrate with voice, motion and gesture? No doubt they could and actually they should regardless of the voice-first apocalyptic visionaries' dismay.
In my opinion, however, a relevant issue, still open to creative solutions, is the way we may integrate these components so to dampen the disruptive constraints of discrete time, physical spaces, and events to reinforce the continuity of user experience. In other words, this is about possible ways of using technology to build a ubiquitous access layer (very similar to what in computing is called "abstraction layer") between the user and the surrounding ambient volatility and complexity. 
The relevant issue, open to creative solutions, is the way we integrate technologies so to reinforce the continuity of user experience beyond and above the ambient volatility and complexity.
To explain better my point, I created a few imaginary advanced Alexa conversations as follows:
User: Alexa, how is the traffic?
Alexa: The fastest route via I-80 and Ch-24 takes about 38 minutes. Do you like to see the navigation map?
User: Yes, please.
Alexa: Should I open the map on your mobile phone or your tv screen?
User: On my tv screen in the living room.
Alexa: Ok, here you go.
In this first example, Alexa uses a familiar and already existing and available ambient resource (tv or mobile phone) to complete a task. This way Alexa easily avoids the disruptive effects of "parallel silos" of using its own dedicated display attached to some version of Echo.
User: Alexa, shut down my tv and move the navigation map to my car display in 10 minutes.
Alexa: Ok, you got it!
User: Alexa, load my todo list on my phone screen now.
Alexa: Ok, here you go.
Here Alexa is able to flexibly bridge the potential user's experiential time, physical spaces and task execution gaps. Alexa's subtle handling of the overall context generates the perception of continuity in the user's subjective experience.
User: Alexa, turn off all lights and set the alarm when I leave the house.
Alexa: Ok, I asked the garage door to let me know when you leave the house.
In the above scenario, Alexa relies on the garage door’s smart motion recognizer to schedule a requested task execution. In the following scenarios instead, Alexa acts as a savvy coordinator moving intelligently across IoT and M2M networks to schedule and perform assignments. The context develops to become a full-blown ubiquitous access layer in the sample interactions below:
User: Alexa, ask the kitchen fridge to send the shopping list to Amazon Fresh Pickup store close to my office.
Alexa: Ok, the fridge forwarded the shopping list. Amazon Fresh wants to know what time you like to pick up your grocery bags.
User: At 5:30 pm.
Alexa: Grocery bags pickup set for today at 5:30 pm.
User: Alexa, send a grocery pickup notification to my phone around 5 pm.
Alexa: Ok, a phone reminder set for today at 5 pm.
User: Alexa, where are my car keys?
Alexa: Sure, your car keys are in the kitchen.
User: Alexa, open the garage door and start my car in 5 minutes.
Alexa: You got it! Your Health Advisor wants you not to forget your daily medication for allergy before leaving the house.
User: Ok, thank you! Please ask my Health Advisor to schedule my annual check up any day next week before 9 am. 
Alexa: Sure. Your check up is scheduled for next Friday morning at 7:45 am. The Health Advisor wants you to be there while fasting. I will send a reminder to the tv in the family room on Thursday evening. 
User: Please ask the bathroom mirror to remind me about the fasting on Friday morning.
Alexa: Sure, you got it!
[................. User is already in the car.............]
User: Alexa, what time does my first meeting start?
Alexa: Your first meeting starts at 8:45 am in the Conference room. 
User: Alexa, ask my Office Assistant to set up the slide show for my first meeting.
Alexa: Ok, done! Your phone said it has just received a text message from your Daughter. Should I read it to you now?
User: Yes, please. 
[...................User is at the office ....................]
User: Alexa, book a table for 3 people at the Italian restaurant close to home.
Alexa: Ok, done. Do you want to pre-order your bottle of wine?
User: Yes, please text me first the list of the Italian wines.
Alexa: Ok, here you go! 
User: Alexa, arrange for a Uber to pick up my son at the airport today at 6:45 pm.
Alexa: Ok, done!
User: Alexa, did I renew the annual subscription to your services for 2018?
Alexa: No, you didn't. Do you want me to submit the renewal request and schedule the first quarter payment?
User: Yes, please do! Remember to upload a copy of the receipt to my Accountant. 
Alexa: Both the renewal and the first payment are scheduled. A receipt will be sent to your Accountant repository.


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