My experience and key takeaways attending Voice Summit 2019. Hopefully you will have as much fun reading it as I did attending it :-)
Voice Summit ’19 is the second edition of Voice Summit organized by Modev at NJIT, Newark from 22nd — 25th September. It was a three-day summit full of workshops, panel discussions, keynotes and fireside chats. Saying event was grand, would be an understatement. There were 5000+ people at the conference from startups, Agencies, Marketers, Influencers, Developers and Industry pioneers all were present in the audience.
One thing that caught my eye was Amazon was true to their vision of ‘Alexa everywhere’. Alexa was everywhere. They want to be synonymous with voice technology and have a top of mind recall within the voice community. They are investing a lot of marketing $ to make that vision come true. This was evident throughout the Voice Summit. They made sure they were visible throughout the event.
In the conversation I had with Adam Cheyer, Co-Founder of Bixby and Siri, he explained the paradigm change they have brought in with Bixby. The concept of dynamic programming has the potential to change the way developers have been designing voice apps until now. Consumers will get a unified experience throughout all the voice apps through Bixby. They have an uphill battle to win against already established players like Alexa and Google Assistant.
Alexa was everywhere, Bixby was somewhere, and Google Assistant and Siri were nowhere. Google Assistant was nearly invisible throughout the conference. There were a few workshops, around creating Action for Google Assistant taken by the DevRel team of Google Assistant, but that was it. Siri in a typical Apple fashion, had no sessions, no workshops no presence at all in the whole event. I understand Siri not being present in the conference, but Google usually splurges on marketing and is present during such events. I am not able to understand the rationale behind not being more prominent in probably one of the world’s largest event around Voice. Are they planning to take a different route? Comment below and let me know what you think about this.
Adoption of Voice is increasing. US smart speaker ownership rose about 40% in 2018 to 66.4 million(give you a little more context population of US is 253 million), and Amazon Echo maintains market share. Report by Loup Ventures forecasts global smart speaker sales forecast(leaving China) to hit 291M devices by 2025 with Google home beating Amazon Alexa. Voice adoption is not equal to the smart speakers sold, but it is a good representation of how voice adoption is shaping up.
Monetisation and discovery have been a constant struggle with voice apps and voice platforms. Amazon and Google have been trying to address these pain points by in-skill purchases, ads, multi-modal devices, but the issue persists. Some startups have come up with unique ways to use and monetize these voice apps. One of them was Marvee. Heidi Culbertson is the founder of Marvee. She hosted a session on ‘designing conversations for people above 50+’. Marvee is a voice design and strategy agency which specializes in building voice apps for elderlies. They also have a platform, built on top of Alexa, which is for people above 50+. Their customers are children staying away from their ageing parents and consumers are the ageing parents. They have monetized their platform by enabling various Value added use cases like entertainment, staying in touch with family news etc.
Brett Kinsella is the editor of Voicebot.ai, one of the premier sources for data on Voice. According to the voice strategy workshop he took, verticalized Voice assistants will become more mainstream. Erica, from Bank of America, which has cost them $60 million to build is one such example. It is an assistant specifically for banking vertical. We will see many more such assistants in different sectors like Automotive, fashion etc. A framework like Slang can be used to build custom assistant inside apps like Erica.
Brands want to be where the consumers are, and smart speakers have seen adoption faster than nearly any other technology in history. Revenue generation is perhaps the biggest hurdle in mainstream adoption of Voice. Voice is like the era of Web 1.0, where all the brands wanted a website, but no one knew what to do with it. Similarly, brands want a voice app as a ‘cool’ factor and a new channel to reach out to the customer. They are investing in the voice 1.0 era, hoping to figure out the use cases for monetization as the industry evolves.
Brands have started realizing the limitations with voice-only devices. The biggest weakness(which is also a strength) of Voice is, It’s great for complex input, but it sucks for complex outputs. So instances, where complex outputs such as lists etc. are a necessity, are not possible on a voice-only device.
Developers are trying to solve this problem by tying up multi-modal interfaces. Users start the journey with Alexa and continue it via the companion app on the smartphone or build for multi-modal devices, to begin with(e.g. Echo Show 5). Google and Amazon are seeing this change and introducing cheaper multi-modal devices(devices with screen) like Echo Show 5.
While there is a lot of hype and FOMO around the development of the new voice-based platforms like Alexa or Google, brands are trying to look at other ways to capitalize on the power of Voice as an interface.
They are looking to power their existing channels like :
Apps (e.g. Erica in Bank of America) with Voice, is bringing in newer experiences to their customers. This also has an additional advantage of getting their users trained to use Voice to interact with the brand, but without needing a whole new channel (like Alexa).
Automating their call centres (e.g. Delta) and bring in newer levels of operating efficiencies and improve customer satisfaction.
It was an absolute delight meeting the pioneers in the field like Adam Cheyer, Cathy Pearl, Ian Menezes, Pete Erickson and Brett Kinsella. I had enlightening conversations with them and picked their brain on the changing landscape of the Voice technology. Voice 2019 presented a window through which you could see where the industry is heading, and unique solutions startups are solving. I am sure Voice 2020 would be an even bigger gathering of voice enthusiasts from all over the world and Slang Labs will be present there (pinky promise!).