Smart Assistants and the Web of the Future

First appearing in the form of Siri for iPhone in October 2011, smart assistants were initially restricted to mobile use.

Three years later, Amazon launched Alexa with its Echo, a device designed this time to be used in the home. In 2016, Google enters the race and presents its new smart speaker: Google Home. After having some success, they soon extended the technology to televisions and cars. What is the reason for this craze, and should we consider these devices as revolutionary to the way we will henceforth be using the Web? We should have a closer look at this phenomenon.

Google Home - un smart speaker intégrant Google Assistant

Are smart assistants really useful or just a craze?

What value really lies behind all these smart assistants? Smart assistants combine many built-in features, enabling users to remotely access these features through voice commands. For example, it is possible to use them as an alternative to the traditional keyboard/mouse combo (or even touch screens) to launch a search, send a message, or add an appointment to your calendar. Smart assistant is able to respond to users thanks to more or less sophisticated artificial intelligence equipped with speech recognition. Basically, the main goal of smart assistants is to give an immediate answer to what you have on your mind at the moment.
This was a very attractive concept on paper and is, unsurprisingly, a real hit among consumers. Sales skyrocketed: A must-have gift at the end of 2017, some sites even went as far as publishing articles entitled “Why everyone should own a Google Home, Amazon Echo, or Apple HomePod”. But are these devices really as useful as their manufacturers say they are?

Most devices currently on the market have a limited list of predetermined functions that are triggered when a known query is identified. In the best case, more irregular queries are answered by reading the top of search engines results, or worse, simply misunderstood by the assistant. At their current level, these devices are fun gadgets rather than truly useful appliances.

What is the future of smart assistants?

Faced with the rapid growth of this technology, with Google Assistant already installed on 400 million Android devices, Google and Amazon are vying for dominance in this market. It’s a battle oriented towards the future in which constant innovation is essential. Apple is currently suffering the consequences of not sufficiently innovating its service, which is currently receiving strong criticism for its mediocre performances in comparison with the competition.

Web industry giants are looking for new places to use these devices, intending to make them more ubiquitous, especially in applications involving limited features where interaction with a graphic user interface is undesirable. In cars, for example, to avoid distracting the driver, or on televisions, thus eliminating the need for remote controls, or in completely new areas such as augmented reality headsets.

On the other hand, the addition of more and more predefined features will also contribute to creating the illusion that these devices possess advanced intelligence. Manufacturers are planning on controlling various connected objects with these devices as the internet of things is increasingly present in homes.

Finally, it is likely that smart assistant services, which are also present on tablets and smartphones, will lead to the decline of “fixed” and portable computers in favor of mobile options. At least this is what some SEO specialists think. Some are already encouraging site owners to preemptively optimize their sites for positioning using this next generation of search requests.

It seems that smart assistants have a bright future ahead of them, despite their currently questionable effectiveness, which can be attributed to the technology still being in its infancy. However, smart assistants are still controversial, mostly on account of the mistrust some users have towards the wholesale collection of personal data. Coupled with the Internet, search history, smartphones and geographic localization, smart assistants are presented as the perfect tool for brands to learn more about our daily lives – opening up the door for increasingly targeted and aggressive marketing.

For more on digital devices, have a look at the following articles: Google Pixel Buds: Dreaming of a World Where Language Barriers no Longer Exist and Designing Virtual and Augmented Reality Interfaces

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