I regularly joke that we can do so much with our smartphones that we often forget that we can still talk to people on them! When Alexander Graham Bell filed US Patent Number 174,465 on 14 February 1876, he may have had an inkling of how the telephone would transform the world but I am not sure that he could have envisaged how people would be using telephones over 141 years later.

Sure, we do still talk to individuals but for most people, the millennials in particular, looking at the screen and performing a variety of functions consumes significantly more time than actually talking on the phone. Texting; e-mails; social media; browsing… With over a million mobile apps available, there are so many things to do apart from talking. As we are doing less and less actual speaking with other humans, some are suggesting that we are losing that ability to have a conversation with people.

My bold prediction is that, with some new developments occurring, we will slowly start to see more people having conversations with their smartphones in hand. Not in the way you might think though. I don’t think people will start to talk to other people on their smartphones but instead, talk to their smartphones.

I am talking about the rise of Voice Assistants.

Seven years ago on this day, Apple acquired an iOS app that was available in the App Store made by Siri Inc. The following year, the iPhone 4s was released on 14 October 2011 and Siri was an integrated part of the operating system. The s in the name stood for Siri with Apple so confident that a voice assistant was a game-changer that they based their model name around it. At first Siri was a bit of fun and gave some quirky answers to questions asked of it. “What is the meaning of life?” delivers a variety of answers including “I find it odd that you would ask this of an inanimate object.” through to “It’s nothing Nietzsche couldn’t teach ya.” and my personal favourite, “All evidence to date suggests it’s chocolate.” As the technology has progressed, Siri is being used more and more for practical purposes. Looking up addresses and phone numbers. Booking in appointments. Adding Contacts. Finding a restaurant nearby. The voice recognition sometimes gives amusing results but is continually improving. By 26 January 2012, Siri had gained enough recognition that in the hugely popular comedy series, The Big Bang Theory, Raj developed a romantic relationship with Siri on his new iPhone.

In the smartphone wars, it is sometimes not the phone itself that wins the day but the availability of apps and the other manufacturers needed to respond to the Siri threat.

Samsung was the first to respond with the release of the S III on 29 May 2012 with their largely unimpressive S Voice. Today sees the release of Samsung’s newest phone, the Samsung Galaxy S8, and integrated into the operating system on that phone is the newest voice assistant on the market, Bixby. Bixby delivers the voice assistant features we have now come to expect and adds augmented reality whereby it will try and identify objects in real time and search for them and try and deliver relevant information to the user. Who needs a tour guide anymore – just point your camera at a landmark and Bixby will tell you what you are looking at.

Google doesn’t like to be left behind so they launched Google Assistant on 20 October as part of their Pixel phone launch. It was initially exclusive on the Pixel but it began to be deployed on Android platforms from February this year.

Although they aren’t kicking too many goals with their smartphones, Microsoft launched Cortana on 2 April 2014. Cortana is an intelligent personal assistant integrated into Windows 10 and Window Mobile. The power of voice recognition on smartphones is now available on your PC – and that power can give you unexpected results. Cortana correctly predicted the winners of the first fourteen matches of the 2014 FIFA World Cup knockout stage before finally incorrectly picking Brazil over the Netherlands in the third-place play-off. Now there is a feature that I could really start to enjoy from my voice assistant!

App of the Week this week is Voicepedia. This app is a voice recognition service to pull content specifically from Wikipedia.

Mathew Dickerson

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