For the last two years, as a enthusiastic evangelist of the new Voice channel (and platform), the Global Head of Voice at Nodes Agency, the soon to be published author on the subject, writer of the weekly Open Voice newsletter and creator of the biweekly VoiceCast (both together with the knowledgeable Sam Warnaars), organiser of the Open Voice event services (with an excellent team & Mirabeau) and the Voice conference, this is not fun to write.
With this new channel, I am not one for blatant hype. I learned my lessons with Augmented Reality 10 years ago when I went the other way. Today with Voice, I only share actual figures, not future promises. Also, I refrain from writing or sharing content with may, could or will in the title. I try to stay realistic and grounded. At the beginning of the year, I predicted in Voicebot that 2019 would be boring with no significant movements in Voice.
Now it looks like it may be even worse.
It’s been lingering for a while, and then the watershed came today when I woke up to my favorite newsletter, the Exponential View, this morning which had this to say about Voice:
“Despite all the early hype around voice assistants, usage is abysmal. Either the industry has yet to find the right use case for voice technology, or perhaps, as one founder points out, “[n]obody wants to walk around their house talking to a computer.”
A business analyst I am not, I sponge up what is around me to sense what is coming and what is not. To see what is going up and going down. It’s how I made a living with the web, email, mobile, and augmented reality. It’s how I found Voice. And now I am in doubt about Voice.
Why? Let me try to explain. And see if I can un-convince myself.
There are no B rounds in Voice
The smartest operators and the best analysts I met in my professional life are VC’s. They figure out whole industries and young potential ones to place intelligent bets. The last 20 years, this skill has reached impressive heights. So when you want to gauge if an industry is hot or not, the actions of VC’s are essential input.
I have not seen significant investments in Voice companies. Of course, there are some here and there, but no B rounds, no billions. Also, major Sandhill road firms like a16z haven’t done anything in the space.
Ben Evans, part of the A16Z team, called Voice a defensive move to make sure that they own a significant stake of the potential new endpoint in the home of the consumer. Two years earlier he said that it will be significant but that it may not be the big platform shift after mobile.
It is not the new major platform after mobile.
There are some independent funded play’s. Soundhoud with over 100 million, they are an independent platform competing with the two major ones. Clinic raised 52mln and focus on NLU for the banking industry, Audioburst raised 10 million for making audio searchable, Verbit raised 23mln for transcription services, and Voicera got 10 million to continue its focus on voice in the enterprise.
But that’s it — less than $200 million.
I am sure I missed several investments, so make it $400 million. That is still less than what is going into one round in the Augmented Reality space.
Skills and actions are not working
In the Dutch ecosystem (which is not even a year old and got lots of hype) I hear rumblings that some launch partners, the companies that partnered with Google for the Assistant launch in October 2018, have meager user numbers. Even to a level where it is not sustainable to keep the services running.
The Dutch advertising and interactive industry awards gave prizes to several cool Voice projects, yet none of the projects were backed up by usage numbers. All were a good idea and “well” designed.” Who are we fooling? It’s just a prize for a potential. In itself not wrong, but please share in awarding the prizes that it is based on potential, not success in usage (that a whole separate post though 8-)
The growth of Amazon Skills is going down in the relative mature US market. The US Skill growth fell from an average of 85 new skills per day in 2018 to just 36 per day in the first half of 2019. New skill launches per day also declined in the U.K. and Germany from 57 to 23 and 13 to 7 respectively.
No hockey stick.
The main players don’t seem to be able to grow large numbers of impactful voice apps. It is too difficult as the one-time impressive voice app authoring software startup Storyline said after closing down. They never saw a high usage Voice app emerge on their platform. And they were the largest platform where Voice services where created.
It’s too hard to move past the music, lights, and kitchen alarm use cases.
What to do?
In the Hero’s Journey, there is a part where the hero (almost) dies and then resurrects. Will Luke make it? Will the ring be destroyed? In the hype cycle, it is just before you reach the slope of enlightenment. It comes after the lowest point of the trough of disillusionment. It is the toughest moment yet also the best.
That is where we are with Voice. The Trough. It is part of the journey. The hero, the voice industry, in this case, will resurrect back to its promise, but it will take time, and be based on perseverance and reinvention. Shedding parts that don’t work and keeping the ones that will.
Hope is there when Apple starts moving into the Voice world. Then the disillusionment will lessen. It took them 10 years to make significant steps in Augmented Reality. They started early with Siri and will catch up again at some point. It will take time.
Also, watch Bixby’s adoption. It will tell a lot yet they have two major disadvantages: they never grew a developer platform and even though the Capsule architecture is significantly different from what Amazon and Google have done, it may not be enough to break out of the Trough. Again, time will tell.
Lastly, there is the reaction of the users. Not just my kids who don’t know any better than to talk to Netflix and the lights. It is also the joy I see when older adults grasp technology again after being excluded for so long. That energizes.
So persevere. Keep pushing; keep working on Voice and make it work in your project. In your business. There is enough good work to be done.
The birth of the conversational channel is undeniable. It has started and won’t be stopped. Be it smart speakers or integrated into the hardware. Be it actions, skills, capsules or shortcuts.
I continue to do what I do and create remarkable voice strategies and services with my customers at Nodes Agency, share refreshing and useful insights on stages, in newsletters, books, and podcasts. To promote and protect the potential of Voice with The Voice Task group. And ensure inclusion for older adults with Project Zilver.
July 22nd I attend and talk at the Voice Summit. Keen to meet others and hear your take.