Voice activated devices and voice control are fast becoming a part of normal daily life for many people. Is the event industry ready for a revolution in voice?
One year ago, Google announced a project called "Google Assistant" and a hardware device called "Google Home". Perhaps it was too soon after sweeping "OK Google" under the carpet because nobody batted an eyelid. Also, Siri and Amazon Alexa already existed. Google Assistant, and by extension, Google Home was just a "me too" product. One year on and it seems Google is fast approaching the top of the heap.
Google recently announced that iPhone users will also get a taste of Google Assistant in a standalone application. Previously, iPhone users could access Google Assistant by using the Allo messenger app but due to API limitations, the experience lagged considerably behind that of Android users.
Voice Is Booming
According to eMarketer, this year, 35.6 million Americans will use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month. Compared to last year, that's an increase of nearly 130%. With 70% of the market, Amazon is still very much at the top of the heap. Google currently trails behind with less than 24% of the market but the balance is shifting. eMarketer predicts that Amazon will be the market leader for the foreseeable future but a growing number of investors think things will swing much faster. The voice control arms race is on and both Google and Amazon are ones to watch.
Although there are plenty of players in voice, it's very much a two horse race. Microsoft and Apple are nowhere to be seen and for some reason, Facebook just don't seem interested. With Facebook's devotion to chatbots and AI, this seems strange.
Popularity Creates Expectation
The rise in popularity of voice-controlled personal assistants in the home and on mobile devices will lead to increased expectation of technology going forward. As the consumer becomes more comfortable with using the technology they will become more engaged. Eventually, this will lead to the expectation of things simply working that way. This inflated expectation will naturally extend to the event industry via event apps. Finding information in a modern app won't be a case of wading through menus, the user will expect to be able to ask the app for the information. It is already becoming commonplace to use AI-powered chatbots and concierge apps to help users retrieve information, the addition of voice control is an evolution of that process.
These new techniques for information retrieval add a new level of complexity to applications and adopting the technology could prove to be a steep learning curve for developers. In an already volatile eventtech sector, such huge leaps in technological capability can be great for innovation but disastrous for those that miss the boat. It's possible that those not investing heavily in user experience, be that by means of employing voice control or other AI options, will be left behind. If voice control is the future of interface, there could be a large skills gap that the eventtech sector will need to plug.
Event Industry Voice Applications
Event Registration and Check-in
The event industry has seen rapid advances in check-in technology in recent times. The adoption of NFC (Near Field Communication) and other low-friction or automated check-in options has drastically cut queue times. It's likely that another low-friction check-in option we'll see in the very near future will be voice based. The automated check-in desk will recognize attendees by their voice and speed them on their way.
Fueled by the rise of AI-powered voice controlled assistants in homes and on smartphones, information retrieval by way of asking questions will likely become the norm. For event apps, one example would be giving attendees the ability to find where they parked their car by simply asking "where did I leave my car?".
Voice Controlled Vending
Voice controlled vending machines have been around for a while. It's likely that with voice control becoming commonplace in the home, voice activated vending will become popular at events. While many attendees may want to opt for a human vendor, robot vendors could prove useful where attendee time is at a premium.
Voice can work both ways. We've already established that the user can ask questions of an app and the same is true in reverse. Event feedback forms of the future could be vocal. Combined with real-time emotional tracking, the whole process of getting feedback from attendees will change drastically in the very near future.
There's Still Work To Do
In terms of security and reliability, the technology industry hasn't quite reached perfection yet. A recent experiment by the BBC showed that a man could access the bank account of his non-identical twin brother by simply mimicking his voice. It only took the man eight attempts at the voice ID password before being able to retrieve his brother's bank balance. This raises the ever-present debate about the security/convenience trade-off. As security improves, this will become less of a problem but for now, dual factor authentication seems likely to reign supreme.
Reliability is also still an issue for voice control. If the user has a strong accent, many current voice control systems have trouble understanding them. Admittedly, the results can be very amusing when your voice-controlled assistant misinterprets what you're saying but at scale, this could be problematic. This should be taken into consideration when deciding on voice applications for events. While voice control can improve the user experience, it only takes one misunderstood word to make a piece of information completely inaccessible. Don't get rid of the menus and/or search boxes just yet.
The increasing popularity of voice activated and voice controlled devices in homes and on our devices will lead to much higher expectations of technology users across the board. This will, of course, lead to increased expectations of event attendees. Whether or not voice control will become the defacto interface of the future or not, it is too early to say but one way or another, it will be a game changer.