Mobile voice interaction: all-seeing butlers will usurp virtual assistants

Today, mobile voice interaction, as most often characterized by iOS’ Siri, is something of a bolt-on product, rather than a pervasive feature. But during a session at GigaOM’s Mobilize conference on Thursday, Fjord advisor Christian Lindholm, formerly Yahoo’s mobile VP, said he sees technology improvements supporting a fundamental upcoming paradigm shift.

“We’re going from an ‘assistant’ to a ‘butler’,” Lindholm said. “It’s not just going to be a microphone button in the user experience. The whole user experience will surface things proactively.

“That sort of dynamism needs to be designed. This becomes the epic battle of user interface. Who controls that first screen? It’s not just a little element on the screen – it’s the whole screen.”

Panelists Lindholm, Nuance CTO Vlad Sejnoha and Novauris CEO Yoon Kim told moderator Derek Kerton that the whole voice interaction concept is nascent, but it will have a profound effect. Nuance’s Sejnoha said voice “has no equal in the current user interface”:

“It’s a way of cutting through these miniature hierarchies, like desktops, on our mobile interface. The rate of improvement of fundamental speech recognition has been astonishing. It’s important to start building what we think it will support in a couple of years, we need to be ready for that.”

Lindholm agreed that current applications may be imperfect but that exponents deserve credit for trying:

“Siri still has problems with my accent. That will quite quickly create a backlash that ‘these systems are still ‘blonde’. But the best thing is that the players in the space have persistence.

“Siri is the only product in history that Apple has launched under beta. It shows they understand it’s not ready… if no-one talks to you you can never become smarter.”

Check out the rest of our Mobilize 2012 coverage here, and the live stream can be found here.