From Snake to iBeer to setting timers, the current state of Voice User Interfaces.

It seems ages ago but just in 1997 Snake was launched on the Nokia 6110. In 2007 many people were virtually drinking beer from there iPhone 1’s. Simple things, yet they are quite significant to the current state of Voice User Interfaces in the Netherlands.

Photo by Elijah Boisverton Unsplash

When one wonders back to their first mobile phone and with this I mean not smartphones but even more back in time, for the ones that were there for it. Imagine that moment when you held your Nokia mobile phone and you were playing snake. Do you already remember it? You opened the game and all you had to do was press one of the four buttons. The longer you played the longer your snake got and the quicker and the more you had to think about your moves.

But what about when you have to think of texting on it for the first time? Was it that much fun too? Perhaps the thing you remember most about it was, that you had to press nine three times to get the letter z. The functionalities and the easiness of mobile phone usage, that we know today was not present yet. Yet Snake let you discover different functionalities of your mobile phone. By playing this and other games you got to know your phone bit by bit.

Fast forward to the first ever iPhone unveiled by Steve Jobs in 2007. Next to being a revolutionary new communication device. It was an introduction to the app store and mobile applications itself. In this very beginning one of the top paid apps, emphasize paid, was iBeer. This was an app where all the user could do was drink beer virtually by moving the phone. When the user holds the phone straight the beers fills up, bending the phone empties the glass. Again, it did not showcase the possibilities of apps that we know nowadays but it was a start. It gave people joy and want to share it with other, who wanted to download and share that same app too. It let users wonder what more there is and get familiar with new possibilities.

Now, what about today? People either bought a Google Home or Amazon Alexa device respectfully. Yet one of the most common use cases so far is setting timers. In contrary to the two previous examples it is a more practical feature. However, this is logical looking at smart speakers, they are essentially speaker. Speakers that can talk back nevertheless. So, experiences with audio are inherently a preferred task. Setting a timer is an audio related task. What is similar to the two previous examples is the fact that it might not showcase the full potential of the device itself. It does make you more familiar with the device and how it operates.

In conclusion, when designing for Conversational Interfaces and specifically for Voice User Interfaces (VUI’s) often the question arises how the company in question can create the greatest platform on VUI with the most returning users. Even with a big budget one has to be realistic and look at the phase VUI is in. We are still in that Snake or iBeer phase.

Essentially, it is still in the phase that users don’t really know what possibilities there are.

Nevertheless, it does not mean no one should make anything for VUI’s. A business more than should. It has to start small think about what is the core of our business and which question about that specifically does the user asks to a Voice User Interface. Solve that question first and gain learnings how this new communication works differently than the ones we are familiar with. It does not only require a new design process, it takes a new way of thinking, a new of setting teams up internally.

Start with gaining knowledge and growing to were your customers can find you and will use your unique VUI product.

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