Voice Activation

Voice-Activated Tracker: Just Say No (To Ads?)

Two voice-activated giants have made themselves clear: No ads until we say so.

The first was a major media story. Google had to step and disable activation after Burger King leveraged Google Home’s wake words in a TV ad. Google very quickly put a stop to it by disabling activation via the sound clip from the ad.

The second flew a bit under the radar.

Amazon recently made changes to its Alexa Skills Developer agreement as a means to lessen the number of advertisements that appear on Alexa’s voice apps. The amended agreement bans any apps that have “any advertising for third-party products or services.”

There are two notable exceptions: music streaming services, like Spotify, which rely on advertisements to fund their free subscriptions, and flash-briefing applications, which run ads between pre-recorded news updates, the latest headlines and weather forecasts.

The news hasn’t sat well with some developers, who look to ads as a primary source of revenue for their voice-activated applications. Clearly, everyone is itching for the voice-activated space to monetize.

It’s unlikely that the voice-activated space will remain ad free for much longer—but the push looks to come from within Amazon and Google.

Naturally, these tech giants want to exercise control over how, when and where ads appear on their devices. And until their monetization schema are up and running, developers and marketers will just have to wait.

But it’s not as if they’ll be sitting on their hands. Amazon, for one, recently gave developers a lot to focus on in the down time before monetization proper comes to smart speakers.

Amazon recently made technology behind its voice assistant Alexa, Lex, available to all developers, just a week after doling out key Echo hardware specs.

Amazon made Lex available to a few organizations — like Capital One, Hubspot, Liberty Mutual and Vonage, among others — last year as part of a preview test. The technology is now open to everyone.

Leveraging Lex, developers can build their own text and voice-enabled conversational applications and chatbots using Lex’s automatic speech recognition (ASR) and natural language understanding (NLU) capabilities.

“Thousands of machine learning and deep learning experts across Amazon have been developing AI technologies for years,” said Raju Gulabani, Vice President, Databases, Analytics, and AI at AWS. “Amazon Alexa includes some of the most sophisticated and powerful deep learning technologies in existence. We thought customers might be excited to use the same technology that powers Alexa to build conversational apps.”

The question then becomes: Will consumers take the bait as other businesses, brands and institutions roll out their own AI voice and text technology in other capacities?

If it’s got anything to do with Alexa, they just might. There’s already brand recognition and faith in its capabilities to that end.

And the two voice giants just keep growing their reach.

Luxury car company Mercedes-Benz, for one, announced the rollout of Alexa and Google Home functionality for 2016 and 2017 models in Europe later this year. Consumers will have the ability to issue voice commands to start their vehicles or send a destination address to the connected dashboard via Google Home or Amazon Echo.

The growing number of integrations as well as the hardware and software developer kits should work to light a fire under voice-activated challengers. (As if the flames weren’t already raging.)

On Samsung’s end, Bixby — at least, the voice-activated portion — is still absent from the market. The S8 launched without it, though it’s likely to make its way onto devices later in 2017. When it does, it’s expected to be a major contender.

Likewise, Microsoft has been steadily adding features to Cortana, such as trip planning, adding items to calendars and composing messages via voice.

While these additions bring it closer to Siri in the laptop game, Cortana still lacks some of the contextual awareness and broader application, IoT device and third-party integrations of its competitors. For the time being, anyway.

If and how Microsoft’s ‘slow but steady’ approach will pay off is an open question. But one thing is for sure — the voice-activated space looks to get a lot more crowded.

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