The increasing popularity of smartphones has turned these devices into an extension of our brains, helping us accomplish everyday tasks at any time of the day, wherever we are. The rise of home assistants such as Amazon Echo also plays a part in this rising trend.
The evolution from written search and manual tasks towards voice search and virtual assistants reflects the changes in user behaviour and technical advances we’ve seen in the last years. The presence of voice search in internet users’ habits has become undeniable.
So, What Is Voice Search?
Voice search is a set of technologies that enable people to look for information online and complete certain tasks by talking to a device. Voice search relies on voice-activated search apps installed on compatible devices, that then feed voice queries to intelligent search engines and connected apps.
How Does Voice Search Work?
Voice search relies on at least four distinct technologies:
- Voice-enabled devices such as mobile phones, home devices and smart appliances, that record a user’s commands
- Voice recognition technology, that prompts the device to record, and understands the user’s words
- Search engines that assimilate the user’s query, and search the Web to find the most relevant answer
- Connected apps that complete actions based on the user’s query, such as playing a song, sending an email or setting a reminder
The 4 Main Players of Voice Search
When it comes to voice search technology, there are 4 main players: Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple. Each of the players launched their own voice recognition software, and most of them have released their own voice assistant hardware. All of them make it possible for developers to connect their technologies to third-party applications and devices.
Apple was the precursor of voice search, integrating Siri to their devices from 2011. Three years later, Microsoft launched Cortana, followed by Amazon’s Alexa. While Google was the first to add voice search to its search engine, it was the last to join the home device party with its Google Assistant in 2016.
Let’s take a dive into each of them and their specificities.
Devices: HomePod, iPhones, iPods, AirPods, Mac Computers, Apple Watch, Apple TV
Search Engine: Google, previously Bing from Microsoft
Initially released as an app for iOS in 2010, Siri was then acquired by Apple and integrated into Apple products from 2011. The technology relies on machine learning, enabling Siri’s answers to adapt to each user over time.
Device: Windows Computers
Search Engine: Bing
Microsoft first released Cortana in April 2014. Cortana can complete actions such as setting reminders and answering voice queries using information from Microsoft’s search engine, Bing.
Devices: Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show, Alexa App for smartphones.
Search Engine: Bing
In November 2014, Amazon launched the Echo home device and its virtual assistant, Alexa. Alexa has a number of functions, referred to as ‘skills’, such as the ability to play music from connected apps, manage events in calendar apps, manage alarms, view shopping lists, etc.
Software: Google Assistant
Devices: Google Home & Google Home Mini, Android smartphones and other Android devices
Search Engine: Google Search
Google released their voice-enabled virtual assistant in May 2016. Available on mobiles and home devices such as Google Home, it can engage in two-way conversations, unlike the Google Now app. Users can activate the Google Assistants by saying “OK Google” or “Hey Google”, or pressing a button to then record their voice query.
Voice search is a natural progression of written search as smartphones take over desktop computers and home devices start to appear in households. Made possible by voice recognition technology and artificial intelligence, it’s giving us a real taste of what living in the future looks like.
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