Make Way for Mobile: Wearables Will Rely on Speech

From wearable devices to personal assistants, mobile voice-controlled applications will take flight this year, according to Raúl Castañón, senior analyst at the Yankee Group. In this question-and-answer interview, he tells why.

Speech Technology: Why do you think the industry is seeing more voice-controlled apps? For example, wearables are a hot topic right now.

Castañón: It's hard to have a functionable user interface with smartwatches on a very small screen, so for many of these devices it makes sense for them to be voice-controlled. It's also closely related to the availability of the technology. Some of the elements of this technology weren't available before, so that's why we are seeing more of these wearable devices. Wearables are like prototypes. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done, but they're definitely getting a lot of attention, and that changes user expectations. 

Another area is with personal assistants. Google and Microsoft are battling with personal assistants, and they're placing more effort into this, and this is a way for them to get more control in the market.

Speech Technology: Will voice biometrics continue to grow?

Castañón: Yes. The authentication process for speech before might have involved an agent on the other side asking security questions or doing some sort of authentication, but now it becomes automated. It's also a complement to the work that the agent is doing, and it reduces time and costs, so it adds value.

Speech Technology: What are your thoughts regarding voice-controlled personal assistant devices for the year?

Castañón: In 2014, we will see a transition to PA-centric devices, with voice control becoming more relevant for the user interface. This not only applies to wearable devices like the smartwatch, but also to tablets, smartphones, and laptops. The technology that makes these developments possible includes hardware, platform, and software applications, and at the heart of this are Google, Apple, and Microsoft jockeying to position their platforms. 

Speech Technology:  What do you think has held back speech recognition? 

Castañón: I think natural language understanding (NLU) is the missing link that's prevented the technology from taking off. Without NLU, you have to structure commands in a specific way in a specific structure, but [with NLU] you don't have to do that, so there is a more natural conversation. It allows people to interact more naturally.

Speech Technology: What is your outlook as far as the most important development for speech recognition in mobile applications? 

Castañón: Developers will have to evaluate how voice can add value to their functionality. User perception will shift as wearable devices become more common, and customer expectations will change. Users will come to expect voice functionality for mobile apps where it makes more sense to enter a command by voice than by touch screen or keyboard.

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