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Opinion: voice control’s dominance has only just begun

Menno Koopmans of Universal Electronics looks at the progress of voice control.

Television watchers used to demand remote controls that had a button for every feature on their television, from simply changing the channel to adjusting the screen display format. Nowadays, they aren’t demanding buttons at all, and instead they’re looking to control their TVs via the sound of their own voice.

Although perceived as a relatively new concept within the tech industry, voice control has actually been around for a few decades now. The automobile and telecoms industries in particular have a history of experimenting with it in various forms over the years, but this has mostly been limited to within a B2B environment. The technology over the years simply hasn’t been advanced enough to match the high standards of the consumer, and so the overall impression of voice control was one of confusion rather than convenience.

Thankfully, voice control has come on leaps and bounds since then, and we’re now at a stage where the quality and accuracy of voice control has improved to such a degree that manufacturers are finally starting to realise the benefits that the technology holds for both themselves and their consumers.

The sheer importance of voice control should not be underestimated: it is the most intuitive technology we’ve ever seen for remote control. The need for remembering all manner of channel numbers and button combinations is no longer necessary, and instead users can simply ask for the channel they want or the desired volume level as if they’re chatting to an old friend. It’s simple, effective and rapidly increasing in popularity, with major TV brands starting to place voice control at the very heart of their user interfaces.

Beyond the TV

However, most critically for manufacturers in the B2B space, the technology also opens up a whole world of residential opportunities beyond the realm of the television. There’s no doubt that voice control is the next big step forward in home automation, and so it will be playing a major role in the evolution of the Internet of Things (IoT). Whether a consumer wants to turn down their heating or turn on the coffee machine, it’ll be voice control that’s used to control all of these different connected devices at once, and that will inevitably result in a rise of remote control usage.

However, the process of incorporating voice control into a business’s product offering isn’t without its challenges. Despite the very advanced level that voice control has now reached, there’s still a considerable number of sceptics, many of whom will be deterred from the technology after bad user experiences in the past. For this reason, it’s crucial that businesses do their best to educate their customers around the evolution of voice control and reassure them of its simplicity. As with any new technology, it’s also important not to assume all users have sufficient knowledge to use voice control properly. There needs to be clear education and instruction around how to use the technology, as well as the tasks and functions that it’s capable of.

The living room can be a challenging place acoustically, with multiple people sitting around the room and noise coming from all angles, and so the microphone needs to be able to clearly capture the voice of whoever is in charge of the remote. This will often require sophisticated audio processing and very precise placement of the in-built microphone.

Voice control’s evolution into a sophisticated, multi-channel command system brings huge potential for businesses, but with competition coming from all angles, it will also force manufacturers to think creatively about how they incorporate it into future products in order to stand out.

Menno Koopmans is senior VP subscription broadcasting, Universal Electronics.