November 01, 2015

Voice interaction - is it always cool?

100 days of Google Dev - the Voice API

Recently I saw the video linked to here "Introduction to Voice Interaction API", from Google, a new API for Android , and it made me think about what the impact will be. 

With the new Voice API the applications can be programmed to have a dialogue with you. Not just saying things out loud, and giving commands, but actually having a kind of dialogue. 

I am not sure what I think about it...
  • From a technology point of view it is of course fascinating. It's utterly cool that your app can ask follow-up questions and get things right. 
  • From a user perspective it's also convenient when you have your hands full and are busy but still need to check something out. I can for example imagine myself using voice if I am checking a recipe and want to know the next step but my hands are covered in grease.
  • If you are in the car it's also pretty great, except personally I prefer setting the music/audiobook/whatever it is up BEFORE I start driving and then focus on the driving - it feels safer. But if you forgot, and you urgently need to check something to do with the road, voice is great - keep both hands on the steering wheel. 
However: I live in Europe; To commute often means using public transportation. This is where my concerns start. 






There was once the boombox that young people carried around (NPR about the Boombox - A Eulogy for the Boombox, see link), making everyone hear what they were listening to. Then came various music players, MP3 players, iPod and so forth and you could listen to your own music and only heard what others listened to through the headphones that leaked some sounds. 

And then the phones started to have decent speakers and some people started using their music players and phones as small boomboxes, while other people stopped worrying about privacy and started to make video calls without using the headsets  - the commute got less peaceful and the noise pollution increased. 

Call me old fashion but while I AM very excited about the Voice API I am a bit concerned about the noise pollution. I really don't want to hear what the other commuters are doing on their phones. 

I hope those who use the voice commands will use it wisely and think about the people around them.  If you use voice commands for accesibility reasons it's great. If that's not why - please save it for at home. 

Also, I hope that the developers think about alternative ways of using the Voice API; I'd like to see an option to start the conversation but then chose whether you respond via voice or through the screen. In a way you could see this as an accessibility feature; Offer alternatives to the end user, design for everyone (link to a previous post).

Because all in all, I really like the new voice API. It just needs to be used in the right way. 

Note: The Voice API is for the Android platform, for Android M, Marshmallow, which is the latest version of Android out there (when this was written, November 2015). Not all Android phones will run Marshmallow, but a big number will be and for those, the developers can use the voice API. Also, if it's available now, we can be relatively sure it will there for the coming versions of Android as well - because in no way do I believe Android Marshmallow will be the last version ever to be released. 

Also: 
I have a background in IT, and despite not being a real developer - I have been in other fields of IT - I do cheat a bit with some smaller things in the field. I learnt (some) programming back in the days and I have seen it a lot over the years when I have lead and participated in various projects, so it's not an unknown field, I am just not an expert. However I take an interest it what's going on. I have been following the 100 days of Google Development series that is being published. But again: I am not an expert on developing, my expertise is in the project field, and the people field. And I am definitely an expert when it comes to travelling and to commuting.  So watch the video, you may be of a different opinion than I am. That's OK.

I would like to hear your thoughts

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