Voice Activation

Voice-Activated Tracker: Fresh Voices

Given the sheer volume of news, updates, skills and integrations, it may have been more fitting at times to title a few past editions Alexa Tracker. But while Amazon’s voice-activated AI virtual assistant has been making headlines, other companies have been working to step up their voice game.

First up this week: a new challenger has entered the ring. This week, Samsung Electronics announced Bixby, its entrant into the virtual assistant games. Bixby will be the new smart interface across Samsung’s devices and applications — eventually. To start, a subset of preinstalled applications on the upcoming Galaxy S8 will be Bixby-enabled.

“Bixby will be gradually applied to all our appliances,” Samsung wrote in a company statement. “In the future, you would be able to control your air conditioner or TV through Bixby…. As the Bixby ecosystem grows, we believe Bixby will evolve from a smartphone interface to an interface for your life.”

There was one thing Samsung didn’t mention about Bixby’s capabilities — whether or not it can buy things.

Sure, a beefed-up competitor to Siri with greater functionality bordering on intuition, will make smartphone and IoT device users happy. In-app voice navigation is a nice feature across industry verticals, and being able to check the weather or select music to play via voice command is convenient.

But given Alexa’s dominance in the voice-activated realm, commerce capabilities are likely key to longevity and market success for any young upstart AI assistant. It’s what takes voice-activated technology from evolutionary to potentially revolutionary.

Google knows this, for one. It’s why they made it possible to order goods for delivery directly from their Google Home smart speaker last month. Google’s Assistant pulls goods from the retailers that support Google Express like Costco, Walgreens and Whole Foods.

This is not to say that Samsung needs to go full eCommerce.

Samsung almost certainly has something up its sleeve — it’s already in the payments space with Samsung Pay — but it doesn’t have to become a direct competitor to Amazon to make Bixby a viable payment method.

As Bixby’s ecosystem expands, one could picture how the company could enable an IoT device equipped with Bixby to order its own maintenance or allow users to use their voices to pay for mobile apps and other digital services on upcoming Galaxy models.

Given that it’s still early in the game for Bixby, these details will likely follow in the coming months.

Elsewhere in the voice-activated ecosystem, renewed excitement for the future monetization possibilities of voice-activated devices surfaced.

News broke this past week of an advertisement (of sorts) for the live-action Beauty and the Beast reboot running on Google Home. A video on Twitter showed a Google Home smart speaker prompted to say what the user’s day would be like. The device told him the weather and traffic as usual, then alerted him to the fact that the Beauty and the Beast premieres on Friday (March 17).

Google later commented on the video, saying, “What’s circulating online was a part of our My Day feature, where, after providing helpful information about your day, we sometimes call out timely content. We’re continuing to experiment with new ways to surface unique content for users, and we could have done better in this case.”

Monetization and advertising could result in a new revenue and profit stream for device makers. As of now, no application on a voice-enabled device has successfully monetized — but monetization seems inevitable in the voice ecosystem. The type of in-feature targeted advertising that this “non-advertisement” on Google Home points to is one way it could be done.

If this were an early sign of a move on Google’s part to generate ad revenue, it could put them at a huge advantage against competitor Amazon if they get to it first.

Whoever ends up monetizing first, industry insight suggests it will happen soon. In their 2017 Voice Report, VoiceLabs projected that monetization in the voice-activated device space should happen sometime before or during Q2 this year.

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