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Smart Assistants – the Next Stage of the (R)evolution?

Smart Assistants is one of the topics of the moment, which is not only a major concern for the developer community but also for the internet scene. For some, the topic of voice is the next big flop for Beacons, Second Life and QR codes, for others the unstoppable “Next Big Thing”. Let’s take a closer look.


Why Smart Assistants?

Over the past few years, there have been new technological developments. Every decade has changed the way computer technology and society at last. While character mode set the tone in the early 1970s, the GUI (Graphical User Interface) was added in the 1980s. In the 1990s, the World Wide Web ushered in the next stage of evolution, and in the 2000s, the Mobile Web took the lead as the next revolutionary milestone. For some years, the VUI (Voice User Interface) has arrived, and thus we are at the beginning of the next revolution.

But is it just the desire of a young industry to be the father of thought? Or is there more to it than that?

It is worth looking into the past of film history to answer this question. By the end of the sixties, a computer named HAL 9000 could be controlled by voice in the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”. At about the same time, Captain Kirk and his crew were talking to the on-board computer in Star Trek. And in the eighties, the “Knight Rider” David Hasselhoff could even speak with KITT, a sports car with artificial intelligence. In all the examples slumbered the vision to be able to steer and control the computer technology with the human voice. At that time, these were still fantasies of alien science fiction writers. But only now is the technology ready to make the visions of the time real.

Admitted, the first voice applications are nice, but are there really a new revolution in voice-controlled guessing games?

Let’s be honest, the first websites were not much more than a long text desert that could be linked to each other via hyperlinks. At some point, the texts were enhanced by images and dynamic content. The first smartphone apps had also largely the usefulness of broken cardboard boxes. The same is happening right now when it comes to Smart Assistants like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant or Apple’s Siri. Simply structured Alexa skills with low utility value currently occupy the largest space. Even large companies start with rather mixed and poorly thought-out voice applications.

Use cases for Smart assistants

I am personally convinced that this is not the case. While the children naturally grow up with touchscreens since the smartphone boom, the current generation is quite stunned by a CD player and wonders why it does not react to speech commands. Smart Assistants will also be a chance for the older generation not to break contact with the outside world. For those who are not as mobile as they used to be or can not see well, voice control can be a real blessing.
Here are a few thoughts on how concrete use cases, apart from guessing games, fact skills or the addition of milk to the shopping list could look like:

    • Even today, the supply of news and entertainment media such as music or radio plays via voice assistants works very well. The market for voice games is on the rise, not least since the release of the echo buttons for Alexa. Interactive games for one or more people are becoming increasingly popular, but also require more imagination from users and developers, since weak ideas can no longer be concealed by opulent graphics.
    • Among other things, Ford and BMW are working on the Alexa integration in their latest models. Thus, the driver is not only supported in the drive and the operation of his car, but he can supply on demand specifically with the desired information or music, without having to take a hand off the steering wheel. In addition, there is also a great opportunity to curb the bad habit of the driver’s nervous tapping on the smartphone sustainably. Thus, a Smart Assistant can also lead to more safety on the road.
  • At work, Smart Assistants will make things easier for the oil-engrossed auto mechanic to reorder spare parts they need urgently during repairs, or for digital voice assistants to deliver the latest sales figures in a meeting. Although the smart business is still in its infancy, Amazon has already created the technical and infrastructural basis for this.
  • Last but not least, voice commerce is still in its infancy. From the one ridiculed, from the other hyped into the sky, especially here lies the truth somewhere in the middle. The sale of regularly needed products such as cat food, toilet paper or printer ink will surely be dominated by Amazon itself. On the other hand, probably only a few users will buy some sneakers, a car or a wall unit with spoken information. Nevertheless, Voice Commerce offers many starting points in terms of service and product advice, which in combination with a classic web shop can indirectly lead to greater customer satisfaction and sales. Interactive shopping consultants can let the user make a pre-selection, which leads him through a deliberate media break to a tailor-made selection.

UX with Voice

But until the Smart Assistants play the same role in our private and professional life as smartphones today, there is still a long way to go. Designing and developing a speech application is something completely different than a website or smartphone app. Nobody wants to read dozens of flight offers or hundreds of product hits from Alexa. The rule of thumb is that the human mind can only decide between three variants it belongs to, while in a visual representation it can capture many more options.
Thus, the Smart Assistants have to perform a filter function in many areas.

Another important difference is controlling a voice application as opposed to a website or app. While the click on a simple OK button on a display can be processed quite clearly, we have to be able to intercept many different variants in a speech application. Everyone speaks differently, some are eloquent, others monosyllabic. Between a confirming OK and “Yes, exactly, I want these green sneakers right now” there are big differences.

In addition, voice designers and developers must always be prepared for the unexpected. If you can not properly respond to the user’s “yes” answer to the question, “Do you want to order pizza or pasta?”, You will have to reap much frustration or rephrase the wrong question. If the user still responds to the same question with “12 o’clock” and the speech application cannot handle this, it will be very difficult. While in a web application or app, certain processes can be made linear, we can not rely on the user actually following our process in a language application.

Another problem is the content. Anyone who believes that he can only read his existing blog posts or product data by the voice of Alexa or the Google Assistant unadjusted, is on the wrong track. What works visually does not usually work purely linguistically. A product name like “Men’s Straight Fit Leg Jeans Pants (W34 / L34)” may well work in one presentation. However, anyone who only hears the product name will have difficulty grasping what has been said.

To stay with Alexa: Most of the skills are pretty simple. You ask the skill to do something, and it answers with the weather, a joke or more or less interesting information. Few skills are truly interactive, engage in dialogue with the user, and also offer different ways of using them. The greatest potential lies in interactive skills that help users make things easier or entertain. And that can quickly become very complex.

Monetization and Marketing

When it comes to monetization, a lot has happened in the past. Although all Alexa skills are still free to use on Amazon and advertising within Alexa skills must comply with very strict requirements. For example, it is not allowed to use Alexa’s voice for advertising. This has already broken the neck of some market participants who had built on interactive advertising with Alexa.

Nevertheless, there are different approaches to how companies can, for example, monetize their Alexa skills. On the one hand, successful skills are remunerated directly by Amazon. This can be a lucrative additional business for individual developers or smaller agencies. However, this is not a plannable future model. More interesting is the opportunity already created by Amazon in the USA to pay directly for products or services via in-store purchases. This creates the basis for the purchase of media products or additional content and features by the user.

Furthermore, well-made voice applications can also contribute to brand care or user generation and thus lead to indirect monetization. Well-thought-out voice applications enhance a company’s image, while quick-launching voice applications and mee-too skills can be more damaging to the image. Even big, well-known companies are not immune to bad performance and users dissatisfied with negative reviews. Businesses should, therefore, think in detail and not rob them of their opportunities through quick shots.


The topic of Smart Assistants or New German Voice is still at the beginning and is laughed at because of mixed previous implementations. Nevertheless, digital language assistants have come to stay. The visions, some of which are half a century old, can today be put into practice on the basis of modern technologies.
But the road is rocky and should not be taken lightly. However, the creative possibilities in the future are limited only by our imagination.

About the author


Vikram is a Digital Media Strategy Consultant who helps small business owners grow their
business. He is passionate about blogging, digital marketing, and emerging technologies.

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