Voice Search, a technology that perhaps 15 years ago seemed straight out of a sci‐fi series; now is accepted as the everyday norm. Voice seems to be ever present around us today, be it on apps on our smartphones, in our cars, and even in our TV remotes.
The growth of Voice Search has been gradual but in recent times is is rising rapidly. We have slowly come to accept it without realizing how significant Voice Search is and how colossal it’s implications can be.
Although Voice is slowly becoming the norm when it comes to how we interact with technology, how much do we actually know about it?
Well, not much at all it seems.
This article covers everything there is to know about Voice Search. It’s origins, it’s history, and even it’s future. We hope at the end of this you understand how Voice Search became a reality, and truly know where it can take you.
Let’s start off with the basics, what is Voice Search?
Voice Search very simply put allows users to speak to a device to perform a search on a web browser, website, or even an application.
Today the use of Voice Search has become widespread due to the use of Voice Assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Google’s Voice Assistant.
Have you ever wondered how a single command like 'Alexa, how is the weather outside?' is interpreted by your smart device?
There are two major components involved in making the magic happen namely -
Of course, the inner workings of these components are more complicated.
The penetration of Voice Search into our daily lives has happened over several years. And the efforts to make Voice Search a reality have been laboured.
A brief history lesson will perhaps help shed some light on this, let’s start right at the beginning -
The fascination of being able to converse with non animate objects started as early as 1952 when Bell Laboratories designed ‘Audrey’ in the year 1952.
This device was able to understand a small selection of words in the English language and even recognize digits from 0 to 9 with 90% accuracy (although only when it was spoken by its inventor)
The next significant invention was IBM’s Shoebox, a device that could understand 16 English words.
During this time several advances were made in the Voice Search space due to the US Department of Defense and DARPA.
Their Speech Understanding Program (SUR) , one of the largest at the time, led to the conception of Carnegie Mellon’s Harpy Speech System which was able to understand over 1000 words and some phrases.
In the 1980’s a breakthrough statistical model called the “Hidden Markov Model” or HMM created great strides.
Now rather than simply using words and sound patterns, it was made possible to predict upcoming phonemes in speech.
We could now estimate the probability of unknown sounds actually being words.
In the 90’s Speech Recognition grew largely because of the availability of personal computers. With faster processors, softwares such as Dragon Dictate become more widely used.
Another innovation was the introduction of the Voice Portal (VAL) , a dial-in interactive voice recognition system by BellSouth. These led to the creation of phone tree systems that are still in use even today.
The year 2000 was a milestone year, where speech recognition technology had reached 80% accuracy.
In this year Google introduced Google Voice Search which put the power of Voice in the hands of millions of people.
The processing power needed for this could be offloaded to Google’s data centers all while data was being collected by Google from billions of searches which helped in prediction capabilities.
At the time Google’s English Voice Search System included 230 billion words from user searches.
The year 2011 was when Apple launched Siri which created waves in the Voice Technology space.
This early part of the decade also saw an explosion in the use of Voice Recognition apps such as Google’s Voice Assistant, and Alexa by Amazon as well.The use of Smart Speakers also became more widespread, Voice Technology now was truly available to all.
Speech accuracy also improved rapidly, this along with the accessibility of Voice Assistants made Voice Search more digestible to the general public.
Voice has been growing at a rapid pace since its inception. More so since the 2000’s with the introduction of Google’s Voice Search and later on various Voice Assistants such as Apple’s Siri, Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant.
The advancement of smartphones and smart speakers too have added to the widespread adaptation of Voice Search. In fact, 35.6 million Americans used a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month in 2017, per eMarketer—a year-over-year increase of 128.9 percent.
More and more individuals are becoming comfortable with the use of Voice Search and in many cases even prefer it. Consumer Technology Association claims 1 in 4 shoppers used voice assistants in their holiday shopping during the 2017 season, a clear shift in consumer behaviour.
Engagement with Voice Assistants has even become the norm ‐
72 percent of US consumers are engaging with voice search through digital assistants such as Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, and Cortana
Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri are the two most popular general purpose voice assistants followed by Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana.
Smartphones seem to be the most popular devices in order to use Voice Search. More than 90 percent of consumers report having used their smartphones to carry out voice searches, compared to less than half on their smart speakers and just over four in ten through in-car voice assistants.
In many cases Voice Search has become even more popular than searching for queries through touch and type -
Seven out of ten consumers (71 percent) prefer to use voice searches to conduct a query over the traditional method of typing (PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2018).
And going by Google’s Voice Search queries, we clearly see that searches have grown dramatically, the number of Voice Search queries in 2016 was up 35x than in 2008 and 7x since 2010.
Google's Voice Search Queries 2008-2016
To understand this growth of Voice Search even better let’s break it two ways -
The advancement of smartphones has played a large role in the widespread adoption of Voice Search. Now every individual with a smartphone has the ability to make use of the power of Voice Technology right at their fingertips.
A majority of users are rapidly beginning to embrace the use of Voice Search in their mobile devices
Currently, more than a quarter (27 percent) of the global online population is using the voice search feature on their mobile devices.
This usage is mostly even between men and women and the usage of mobile Voice Search seems more widespread amongst Asian countries.
In Indonesia, China, and India, 38 percent, 36 percent, and 34 percent of all internet users reportedly carried out voice-assisted searches on their mobile gadgets whereas in United States this number stood at 25%.
Voice Search still is growing globally as well, according to Statista the global mobile voice traffic reached 55 exabytes in Q3 2020 alone, which is 18.3 exabytes more than the third quarter of 2019.
And if you take a look at consumer behavior, 60% of smartphone users have used voice search at least once between 2019 and 2020
Ano interesting point to note in regards to this is that Mobile voice-related searches are 3X more likely to be local-based than text-related searches, per Search Engine Watch.
Mobile Voice Search trends
And customers WANT to use Voice Search, As per Voicebot.ai, more than 45% of consumers say they would like to have voice-assistant features in their preferred mobile apps! And with Google recognizing 119 languages for voice-to-text dictation, the path is even clearer.
In India too Voice is growing at a rapid pace, the overall share of voice technology is currently at 28% of mobile users, and the use of the Hindi language is seeing a growth of 400x per year.
Voice Search in smartphones is simply booming.
Google claims that their Voice Assistant is now available on more than 400 million devices. While a majority of these are in Smartphones, other smart devices such as Smart Speakers have aided in the Voice Revolution in their own ways.
In a device such as a Smart Speaker, Voice is the primary method of interaction and consumers are embracing this-
As of 2018, 23 percent of American households possess smart speakers, half of which have more than one! And by 2020 it is expected that three-quarters of US households will have at least one smart speaker
It is also interesting to note that the average US household with a smart speaker in 2018 has 2.3 speakers, an increase from just 1.7 in 2017. In fact, as many as 14 million people became owners of smart speakers for the first time in 2018.
This ownership is forecasted to double to 45% in 2019, and then rise to 75% in 2020. Meaning three-quarters of all US households are expected to own at least one smart speaker by 2020.
It is also worthwhile to note where users are placing these Smart Speakers -
According to Google, 52% of smart speaker owners keep them in a common room such as a living room; 25% of these people keep them in their bedroom, while 22% keep a smart speaker assistant in their kitchen.
These smart speakers are becoming a part of consumers' lives, and are being interacted with in a very natural manner to make queries, purchase products, play music, and more.
Voice Search is the method through which these rapidly adopted devices are being used. Among smart speaker owners who regularly use them, 62% will make a purchase using voice technology.
According to Walker Sands one in five consumers (19%) have made a voice purchase through Amazon Echo or another digital home assistant, and another third (33 percent) plan to do so in the next year.
Voice Search has become in this case the primary and well, the only means of interaction and it works! It works wonderfully.
Smart Devices such as smart speakers have played a major role in the widespread growth, acceptance, and adoption of Voice Search.
While Voice Search in Smartphones and Smart Speakers came to prominence due to Voice Assistants nested in the devices themselves; In recent years companies have been integrating their own personal Voice Assistants and Voice Search capabilities into their apps to make app experiences faster, easier, and more accessible.
Companies such as Amazon which already have powerful Voice Assistants such as Alexa choose to integrate them into existing applications they own such as their shopping apps. This allows users to take advantage of the Voice Search capabilities allowing for smoother shopping experiences.
Alexa embedded in Amazon’s shopping app
Other players such as Flipkart in the Indian E-commerce marketplace too, recognize the merit of integrating Voice Search and Voice Assistant capabilities.
Flipkart in 2018 acquired Liv.ai to offer consumers a Voice Assistant that uses natural language processing to identify different accents in nine Indian languages. It also launched Saathi, a smart assistive technology to help users navigate through the website with the help of audio and textual instructions.
The gradual rollout of Flipkart’s In-App Voice Assistant started in January 2021 and initial trends show that it serves over 5 million queries a day.
Another example is of Gaana, India’s largest music streaming service.
When Gaana wanted to expand its audience to users from rural India, the brand added voice search functionality to its app as a way to overcome literacy barriers among new internet users. Within a year of launch, 24% of all Gaana users were using voice to play their favorite songs.
Large brands recognize the value of Voice Assistants in apps to acquire the Next Billion Users and are taking radical actions to do so.
Flipkart’s In-App Voice Assistant facilitating Voice Search
Not all players in the market however have the time or the resources to develop, test, and launch their own Voice Assistants. Building a Voice Assistant capable of Voice Search from scratch is simply too complicated and for most brands, is not worth the effort.
Many brands, therefore, choose generic options such as Google’s Voice Search as the default Voice Search in their apps.
Google Voice Search in the JioSaavn App
This however does not work out very well because Google Voice Search is not optimized for specific domains, has low accuracy, and lacks the features and finesse that a Custom Voice Assistant provides.
But even with this reduced functionality Voice still has an impact and is being adopted by users.
JioSaavn an Indian online music streaming service that uses Google Voice Search, in 2020, witnessed an 89% increase year to year in voice searches on Android mobile devices.
Imagine what results JioSaavn could have reaped with a smart Custom Voice Assistant.
The reality is that Voice Search with changing times is slowly becoming a necessity due to its rising adoption and utility. But as we've said before, integrating a Voice Assistant for most companies has been an expensive and all too tedious affair.
Companies must consider ASR Domain optimizations, NLP requirements, Translation Optimizations, Text to Speech, build conversation design, take care of the UI and UX components and more.
This simply takes too much of an investment in terms of both capital and time.
But now there is a unique solution to this particularly tricky problem, VAaaS i.e Voice Assistants as a Service.
Slang Voice Assistant in various e-commerce apps
With Slang Labs, companies can integrate pre-built, multilingual, domain-specific Voice Assistants to existing web and mobile apps in as little as 30 minutes.
A comprehensive solution to a complicated problem, to learn more about Slang In-App Voice Assistant, click here.
We’ve established by now that Voice Search is being adopted at a rapid pace, companies are investing in voice, and that it is here to stay.
But why is the world moving towards Voice Search? Who exactly is using Voice, and how are companies adopting Voice to have a leg up in this Voice Revolution?
As we’ve established earlier the biggest driver for the adaptation of Voice is the change in consumer behaviour due to the advent of voice search itself. The way consumers interact with their devices has potentially been changed forever.
Devices are now more accessible and user-friendly than ever before. Scores of individuals who earlier could not make use of technology due to barriers such as technical proficiency, language barriers, and even disability can now confidently use Voice as their preferred mode of interaction.
Businesses recognize this, they recognize that -
We want to reiterate this statistic again -
As per Gartner, 30% of searches will be Voice searches by 2020.
Now add to this potentially the billions who earlier could not access technology easily due to barriers digital natives take for granted.
Voice search can be a great equalizer, it has the potential to bridge the digital chasm, and the growth of Voice seems to be drastic in countries in certain parts of the world. The Asia Pacific region, for example, has a population where English is not the predominant language.
And in India for example Voice Search queries are growing by 270% per year whilst 82% of smartphone users use voice-activated technology.
Voice Search allows individuals here to interact with devices in the language that they are comfortable with and without the need to be able to interact with devices through touch and type.
This growth of voice however is not just limited to this region it is a worldwide phenomenon. The adaptation of voice technology is happening at a rapid pace.
And these individuals are using Voice Search to research and interact with a wide variety of industries.
According to Google 20% of all searches made using its platform are Voice Searches, combine this statistic with the knowledge that Voice Search increases user engagement and conversions, makes technology accessible to billions of people, and upgrades user experience it is clear that large companies have no choice but to embrace and integrate voice search into their existing methods of operation.
It’s clear that Voice Search has created a shift in the way users interact with technology, and has made interfaces more accessible and intuitive.
But, how are users using Voice Search? Who are these users? How often do they make searches using voice?
According to a study carried out by PWC, younger consumers are driving the adoption of Voice Technology but not necessarily heavy usage. Although it is seen that consumers between the ages of 18-24 are adopting voice search at a faster pace, it is 25-49 year olds who are using them more often and are more likely to be considered “heavy users”.
And the study also reveals how consumers are using voice assistants. With the main usage of such assistants being, well you guessed it, taking advantage of their Voice Search functionality.
This graph reveals a drastic change in consumer behaviour. 32% of the individuals revealed that they used Voice Search in place of searching by text on a search engine daily, and 57% of individuals studied revealed that they used this functionality at least once a month.
According to a similar study by Hubspot 74% of their 1426 respondents had used Voice Search in the past month!
These mobile voice-related searches Search Engine Watch says are 3X more likely to be local-based than text-related searches. This means that intuitively users search for terms such as “Coffee Shops Near Me”
What Voice search allows individuals to do is use their devices in a much easier manner. Devices now are easier to use, and more accessible.
This interesting study by Google shows us how teenagers and adults use these capabilities slightly differently -
Voice Search usage among teens and adults
It has been observed that - although all people use voice search to ask practical questions, teenagers use Voice Search in a more comprehensive manner.
Using Voice Search to answer questions for homework, or play music is something teenagers do more of.
What about the differences in when these groups use Voice search?
When Voice Search is used for by Teenagers and Adults
An interesting observation made is that while adults prefer not to use Voice Search amongst company, teenagers do not associate any social stigma with using Voice Search among their peers. A sign perhaps that with time the use of Voice Search is becoming more normalized.
Why Voice Search is used by Teenagers and Adults
It is seen here that although teenagers responded more affirmatively to the reasons given such as “Voice Search makes me more efficient” and “ I use Voice Search for multitasking”. Overall Voice Search is being adopted more for the same reasons.
Furthermore, this technology while enhancing the user experiences of existing customers, also boosts accessibility for Billions of new ones.
Voice technology can potentially make services that were previously difficult to access for various individuals due to issues such as a lack of literacy, technical proficiency, or language barriers easy to use. This makes Voice Search very very attractive to many.
People all in all are using Voice Search because it truly does benefit them, and it does so in various ways.
Over the years companies have slowly begun integrating Voice Search capabilities into their devices and platforms.
Companies such as Google, Amazon, and Apple have chosen to recognize the implications a Voice forward future will have and have taken the route to become early adopters.
Let us now take a look at how these companies have gone about integrating Voice into their platforms and devices with a few examples that stand out.
Google's Voice Search when it was first released was a tool from Google Labs that allowed individuals to make search queries using their mobile devices.
The user would have to dial a number provided by Google on their phones and then speak their query when prompted. Next, they would either wait to have the page updated, or click on a link to bring up the search page the user requested.
Google Voice Search has come a long way since then and is a powerful tool available in several different platforms owned by Google.
Google Search engine has evolved over time to make room for not just searches made through touch and type but also voice Ssearches.
Moreover, voice searches can be performed in multiple languages including German, French, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, and more.
Google Voice search today is incredibly accurate but the languages supported for Google Voice Search are not all made equal or provide the same performance. Take a deeper look here.
Google's Voice Assistant has its Voice Search feature built-in. Users can either open up the assistant manually or set a trigger phrase such as “Hey Google” which activates the Voice Assistant and then make queries directly with the assistant.
Voice Searches such as “What’s the weather like today”, “ How many kgs is one gram” etc, can easily be made using Google Voice Assistant.
Google Voice Assistant is also available in automobiles, as well as wearable devices such as smartwatches.
Google has not been late to the smart speaker. In 2016 Google came out with its smart speaker known at the time as Google Nest, now called the Google home.
Google's Voice Search is built into the device and individuals can interact with the device entirely with Voice, allowing users to make queries, listen to music, or receive news updates entirely by Voice.
Google has also integrated its Voice Search capabilities into other platforms it owns such as YouTube for example.
Both the YouTube browser and mobile application display a prominent mic icon next to their search bars through which Voice Searches can be made In-App.
In 2014 Amazon released its Voice Assistant Alexa alongside the Echo, their first foray into the world of Voice Technology and since then has found itself in the homes of millions of people all over the world.
In 2014 Amazon released its Voice Assistant Alexa alongside the Echo, their first foray into the world of Voice Technology and since then has found itself in the homes of millions of people all over the world.
Amazon’s Alexa is found in its range of Smart Speakers and home devices beginning first with the Echo Dot.
Over time the Smart Speaker has been enhanced and several variations of it have been released such as the Echo Tap a smaller portable version of the Echo, the Echo Flex a smaller speaker that can be plugged directly into a wall outlet, and more.
Amazon Echo leads the pack, with a 66.6% share of the 61.1 million voice-assisted devices in use in the U.S.
These Smart Speakers are capable of several functions such as making search queries, playing music, making notes, and more.
On November 19, 2014, Amazon released the first-gen Fire TV Stick, consisting of a dongle that could plug into the HDMI port of a Smart TV and a remote control which you guessed it, was capable of supporting Voice Searches.
Users could now make use of video streaming services and interact with the platforms entirely with their Voice. Over time the Fire TV Stick and its Voice Search capabilities have been steadily improved.
Amazon has also integrated Voice Searches into its shopping app. Customers can now simply click on the mic icon near the search bar and look for products using Voice.
This Voice Search too is run on Amazon’s Alexa and allows for smoother, faster, and easier shopping experiences.
Alexa is also available in automobiles, as well as wearable devices such as smartwatches.
Unfortunately as of the time this blog post is being written Safari does not offer the option to search the web using Voice. It is however predicted that this is a functionality that will be added in time.
The Apple Homepod Smartspeaker was first released in 2018 with Siri inside. Just like Amazon’s Alexa, or Google Home, Apple’s Homepod allows users to interact with the speaker entirely with their Voice.
Making Voice Search that much more accessible.
On March 12, 2021, Apple announced that it was discontinuing the original HomePod, in favor of the HomePod Mini.
Siri is also available in wearable devices such as the Apple watch.
Microsoft launched its Voice Search feature as early as 2007 albeit it was quite primitive back then. Bing finally got it’s Voice Search feature late 2020.
Bing has a prominent mic icon embedded in it’s search bar which when clicked on prompts the user to speak, making it’s search experience that much faster and easier.
Cortana is a virtual assistant developed by Microsoft which uses the Bing search engine to perform tasks such as setting reminders and answering questions for the user.
Available in Windows, it can be used both on mobile devices and Desktop computers.
Voice Searches can be made using Cortona very easily simply by tapping on relevant icons and speaking queries. It’s also interesting to note that Voice search accounts for 25% of searches conducted on Windows 10 taskbar, per Purna Virji of Microsoft.
Cortona is available in English, Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese language editions, depending on the software platform and region in which it is used.
Now however Microsoft's Cortona is being pulled from various regions as well as from iOS and Android app stores and Microsoft plans to reduce emphasis on Cortana in Windows 11.
Microsoft stepped into the Smart Speaker race by partnering with Harman/Kardon and integrating Cortona into their range of Invoke Speakers. This enabled the Invoke Range of speakers to be capable of most functions Cortana offered.
However, Cortana’s functionality has been largely eclipsed by the likes of Alexa and Google Assistant and in 2021 Microsoft ended Cortana service on the Harman Kardon Invoke speaker line.
It is important to note that these companies have integrated their Voice Search and Voice Assistant Capabilities into other devices as well, such as in entertainment systems in Automobiles for example.
Use of their capabilities as a third party however can prove to become cumbersome and expensive. The Voice experience too is not completely customizable.
The steps taken by the companies however are commendable and point to a future where Voice Search is and will be the norm.
Founded in 2017, Slang Labs aims to solve a problem that is all too prevalent in today’s digital age; The lack of accessibility to technology that plagues scores of the world’s population.
Factors such as English-only experiences, technical complexities, and poor app experiences prevent millions of users from being able to access and use the technology that you and I enjoy on a daily basis.
An increasing number of companies are waking up to the value that Voice Assistants can bring to their businesses, the way in which they can help them to acquire as customers The Next Billion Users
Many businesses therefore, want to integrate Custom In-App Voice Assistants into their existing mobile and web apps.
The process of doing this, however, is rife with complexities and simply too much of an investment in terms of both time and capital for most businesses.
Slang Labs offers an elegant solution to this tedious problem with their smart Multilingual In-App Voice Assistants
Powered by Slang CONVA the world's first Voice Assistants as a Service platform. Slang Labs enables businesses to add In-App Voice Assistants to mobile and web apps quickly and easily, with a very intuitive and developer-friendly workflow.
CONVA follows a "Batteries Included" approach and comes with a set of Voice Assistants that are:-
CONVA breaks down the process of adding In-App Voice Assistants into a very simple and intuitive workflow, that feels natural to a mobile or web developer, while also providing the necessary flexibility for businesses to customize the experience to suit their app's specific needs.
Unlike existing platforms, CONVA provides pre-built and pre-trained Voice Assistants along with a simple interface to customize and integrate them into apps.
To learn more get on a quick call with us today!
Yes, Voice Search does have its challenges and the challenges can mainly be comprised into 3 categories -
Privacy is a huge concern when it comes to Voice Search. More so in the cases of certain devices such as Smart Speakers which always listen for a wake word to be activated. This is the case too for Voice Assistants in Smartphones.
It is important to understand the difference between listening and recording. These devices are always listening for a wake word which then activates them, prior to which a Voice Search can be made.
The prospect of always being listened to however is concerning.
The recordings taken while making a Voice Search are sent to the tech giants from whom the service is being taken from. These tech giants have in the past exposed these audio recordings to humans, albeit in an anonymised manner yet, a significant infringement on privacy.
There have already been numerous cases where such recordings have led to privacy issues.
Another issue that crops up when it comes to Voice Search is accuracy.
Although Voice is making strides and large ones at that, there are still issues when it comes to accuracy. Voice Searches made are not always recognized and executed effectively.
Some issues arise are problems understanding regional accents and there are cases where there is no relevant instruction for the query made.
However, it is important to note that as time goes on these problems are being addressed, and every day Voice Search is becoming more and more accurate.
Another major issue that pops up is that Speech recognition, perhaps the most critical component of a Voice Assistant, is not available for a lot of languages spoken around the world. The problem is not only limited to speech recognition but also extends to other critical functional areas.
Countries in Asia need improved Voice Search experience. India for example has a massive Indic speaking population and ack of quality ASR models for vernacular languages, are often a limiting factor in providing great Voice Search experiences.
There have been large strides in the development of Voice Search for English but the same needs to be done for Asian languages as well.
Vernacular Language Support in the near future will not only be something that is convenient, but will soon become necessities.
Voice Search is growing rapidly and advances are taking place at a lightning fast pace. With advancement in Machine Learning and Artificial intelligence the evolution of Voice is that much faster.
Voice now is in the same place apps in Smartphones were a decade ago, it is the next big thing and it will revolutionize the way human beings interact with technology, big businesses recognize this and choose to become early adopters.
With advancements happening the way they are, Voice Search and Voice Technology is slowly becoming accessible to all, and current experiences with technology will surely be greatly improved. With growth in the world of Voice being the way that it is, Voice Search will soon be a major mode of interaction with everyday devices.
Currently we’re seeing great opportunities arise that if capitalized allow for businesses and individuals to be greatly benefited. A lack of skills and knowledge in this arena however act as a major barriers.
If however the decision is made to embrace Voice now and plan for the long run, the benefits are extraordinary.
Those who choose to recognize this, eventually will come out on top.