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Why talking to your smartphone shouldn’t leave you red-faced in today’s digital society

Having a conversation using our smartphones in public - that’s something we do every day, right? If you’re a regular train traveller in the UK, you’ll know this all too well from other people - even in the quiet carriages!

However, according to new findings from Creative Strategies, only six per cent of consumers will activate personal assistants - such as Siri, OK Google or Cortana - when in public, and only one per cent would do so at work. This is compared to over half (51 per cent) that report feeling most comfortable using voice assistants in the car.

On the whole, as a nation we are generally becoming more comfortable using virtual assistants. According to the Creative Strategies poll, 39 per cent of consumers are happy using their voice assistant (VA) in their home. Alongside this, recent Nuance research has found the vast majority (89 per cent) of consumers prefer to engage in conversation with virtual assistants to quickly find information instead of searching through web pages or a mobile app on their own.

So why aren’t we exactly comfortable with engaging voice-activated technology in public?

Well, in fact, it might not necessarily be a comfort or confidence issue at all. It seems logical that most VA usage is in the car due to the hands-free laws that regulate driving and texting. Therefore, drivers may feel more inclined to ask their personal assistant for information, directions or support.

Moreover, when digging deeper into the research, it was those who had never used a voice assistant that reported feeling most uncomfortable with talking to their technology – particularly in public.

There are many reasons why this might be there case but there is reason to suggest this group of people might simply expect the technology not to work effectively, thus fear drawing attention to themselves if they’re using it in public and potentially creating a cause for embarrassment.

Voice technology is evolving

However, voice recognition is a different entity from what is once was. Gone are the days of having to speak super-slowly, really loudly and mask any regional accent features for the technology to understand and decipher a word of your command.

Today, we’re working with intuitive and advanced technology that learns from you the more you use it. Not only that, it can be significantly faster and easier to use your voice to issue instructions to your smartphone, especially when you’re on the move.

This is only touching the surface of what VAs can achieve. Industry applications are already demonstrating the incredible potential of using speech technology to help professionals work more effectively and efficiently. In healthcare, for instance, Nuance solutions transcribe more than 7 billion lines of medical data each year. But these solutions go beyond merely enabling doctors to take patient notes faster, and incorporate artificial intelligence to support them in creating more complete records by - for example - giving prompts to add in added detail or context where relevant.

Assistants are often actually faster for consumers – and more secure

Another example of this tech in action is Dutch financial institution, ING Netherlands, which uses voice biometrics for a dramatically improved user experience. This new line up allows customers to completely control their mobile banking app - from logging into their account to making bank transfers - which are secured by technology that identifies the unique characteristics of their voice, ultimately making transactions faster, more convenient and more secure.

The ability to make potentially complex transactions simply by voicing instructions to your phone – without having to exchange potentially sensitive information such as your date of birth, home address or mother’s maiden name – offers a much speedier alternative than making a call or trawling through web-page after web-page and inputting several reams of login credentials.

Building confidence

While it seems we might still be some time away from the widespread adoption of virtual personal assistants in public places, it is clear that consumers are certainly feeling more comfortable and are starting to feel the value of the technology. In the UK, smartphones have overtaken laptops as the most popular device for getting online, with record ownership and use transforming the way we communicate.

Two thirds of people now own a smartphone, using it for nearly two hours every day to browse the internet, access social media, bank and shop online. And it won’t end at the smartphone. Uber’s Chris Messina recently highlighted how Apple’s new AirPods are less a technology device, but a way to further increase users’ engagement with Siri. Just as it previously looked weird to see people chatting to their family through their EarPods, now Apple is enabling a socially acceptable, always-on engagement with its infamous bot.

Most industries are addressing the smartphone revolution by providing optimised web-pages and an improved digital experience. However, they shouldn’t stop at simply improving the design of their website. To reach all customers, organisations must ensure they provide a seamless user experience across all channels, including voice, in order to maintain competitive advantage.

With industry leaders like Apple creating devices that will continue to facilitate this trend, mass adoption won’t be far behind. And those companies that don’t look to innovate now, may find their services passed-up for a competitor who does.

Seb Reeve, Director Product Management, Nuance Communications (opens in new tab)

Image source: Shutterstock/polkadot_photo