Consumers Want More, Better Voice Capabilities

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Consumer appetite for and satisfaction with speech-to-text, text-to-speech, voice control, and video chat capabilities is on the upswing, according to recent findings from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA).

The CEA study focused on consumer awareness of and use of speech technology on mobile devices as well as satisfaction with the technology. It found that almost half of all adults in the United States are familiar with the technology.

"From our research, we saw that about half of the adults who use smartphones and tablets are aware of the technology," says Kevin Tillman, senior research analyst at CEA. "Overall, satisfaction is pretty high with the technology. People don't have a lot of negative things to say about using the technology, but there's certainly an opportunity to continue to tweak and refine it."

Additionally, one-third (34 percent) of U.S. consumers expressed an interest in owning mobile devices with voice control capabilities. Tillman says a primary reason for this is the ever-growing number of states enacting laws that ban the use of cell phones when driving unless those devices are equipped with eyes-free, hands-free technologies.

"These laws are pushing this technology more to the forefront for people with these restrictions," Tillman says. "This technology is very situational for a lot of consumers."

Interest in voice technology has also been spurred by smartphones, which the CEA says are used by about 55 percent of all adults in the U.S. "Smartphones are obviously one of the most in-demand products," Tillman says.

Speech, he adds, "penetrates the market even more as [smartphone] technology becomes more available to people."

CEA's research also found consumer preference for speech-to-text is slightly higher than text-to-speech; 34 percent of respondents expressed an interest in speech-to-text versus 29 percent for text-to-speech.

But despite the technology's appeal, there is still room for improvement, according to the research. More than three-quarters (77 percent) of speech-to-text users said they want better speech recognition technology, while nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of text-to-speech users expressed the same desire. Almost half (49 percent) said speech technology could be more reliable.

"People are certainly surprised with how accurate a lot of the dictation can be, but at the same time, people with certain dialects had a lot of trouble," Tillman says. "There's definitely room for manufacturers and code writers to improve some of the recognition capabilities."

Consumers are also widely aware of voice and video chat technologies, with 62 percent and 65 percent, respectively, of U.S. adults indicating some familiarity with the solutions. Additionally, 23 percent expressed an interest in the technology.

More than half (55 percent) said video chat technology needs to improve. "The big concern with video chat is bandwidth restrictions from service providers," Tillman says. "There might be very choppy video or it could have lags, and that's the number one concern about the technology right now."

Tillman says speech has a positive future, but warns that the technology is still just emerging for a lot of consumers. "Manufacturers continue to show consumers where the technology can really help them or make their lives a little bit safer, especially in terms of driving and other activities, and that's really the key in getting the technology used more by consumers overall," he says.

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