Talk It Up: Voice UI Is in the House

As CCS Insight Predicted, Speech-Based Interfaces Go Mainstream

CCS_predicts_lCCS Insight has stated at several of its annual Predictions events that speech-based user interfaces (UIs) are going mainstream, and we’ve been encouraging device and platform players to be prepared to support the change in consumer behaviour that will go along with this. We stated at last year’s Predictions event (see CCS Insight Predictions for 2014 and Beyond) that voice UI would move from the extraordinary to the mainstream by 2016. Several exciting speech-activated products released this year confirm that the prediction is on track to come to fruition.

Last week, Ubi — a small, wall-hanging computer — caused a stir among sci-fi fans for its HAL 9000-esque traits. The Wi-Fi-connected, screenless box is always listening to the homeowner’s commands. Similar to Google Now, the device wakes up with “OK Ubi”. The user can then dictate messages, perform searches and play music all via voice.

Ubi’s inventors say the goal is to mimic the human brain, demonstrating learning and adjustment over time. This isn’t the first platform to promise a form of artificial intelligence (TiVo did this more than a decade ago), but it’s bringing more pieces together, making a computer a central consumer electronics device for the home. CCS Insight believes that Ubi is good indication of what platform UIs will evolve into during the coming years, hiding complexity and using sensors to proactively warn and inform. At a price of $299, Ubi could be one of the hottest gifts this holiday season.

Jibo is another small, voice UI-only computer that its company calls “the world’s first family robot”. Reminiscent of characters in the Pixar film Wall·E, Jibo looks around as it listens, providing advice in a friendly, low-key voice. It’s perhaps one of the smoothest-behaving home accessories ever introduced, and never before has a computer looked so cute. It’s a reminder of what Sony’s robotic pet, AIBO, could have been.

CCS Insight believes that devices like these could be disruptive to the search market — the underlying technologies are invisible to the user and so could provide Google competitors with opportunity to gain search share. Microsoft, via Xbox, and Amazon, via its voice-activated Fire TV, should utilise their living room presence for this purpose, and we believe that set-top box makers and broadcasters have similar opportunity.

We expect demographics to play a key supporting role in the deeper use of voice UI across devices, moving beyond smartphone-based personal assistants like Google Now or Siri. An aging population may be enticed by devices that don’t require reading text on small screens, and speech input can also complement wearable devices given the lack of screen real estate on these products.

All signals point to a verification of this CCS Insight-predicted trend. Voice UI is taking centre stage in this ubiquitous computing environment, and could be as disruptive as multitouch was in 2007. We continue to believe that all device and platform players should prepare to listen up.


Next week in this blog, CCS Insight will continue to highlight key trends discussed during previous Predictions events. For information about our upcoming Predictions event, to be held on 19 November 2014, please click here.