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Voice on Voice #143 
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Finding “Just Right”–The Challenge of Balance in Assistance

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One of the ways voice assistants are evolving to be more frictionless and valuable to users is through adding proactive capabilities that often don’t require speaking more. While we want our assistants to be there for us, they need to assist while being unobtrusive. Features like automatic camera tracking on the Facebook Portal and Echo Show smart displays keep users in the frame during pictures or video. Both Amazon and Google are leveraging radar technology to derive health insights from sleep. This week, Google is actively exploring how the absence of wake words might elevate a voice experience, while Amazon is dabbling in how Alexa status announcements on third-party smart devices might prove useful. These contextual functions are paving the way for easier and almost effortless two-way exchanges, but these experiences must be careful not to infringe on the delicate balance between helpful anticipation and unwelcome trespassing.

Getting to the Point

Google Assistant’s upcoming “Quick Phrases” feature will let customers use the assistant without saying “Hey Google.” The update, dubbed “Guacamole,” first made the news in May and was rumored to allow users to answer calls and manage alarms and timers without the wake word. In addition to calls, alarms, and timers, the Quick Phrases update will also include functionality for asking about the weather, setting reminders, skipping songs, controlling volume, turning the lights on/off, and more. This isn’t Google’s first foray into exploring a voice experience without “Hey Google” — last fall, the company tested proximity activation. These developments speak to how assistants might enable more frictionless assistance.
More on 9to5Google

Your Food Is Ready 

Alexa developers can now build proactive announcements on third-party Alexa devices. For example, smart home devices for the kitchen or laundry can announce when the clothes have finished drying, or when the food is ready. Currently, these status notifications are available on Alexa-enabled washing machines and ovens. Anova, known for its sous vide precision cookers, has enabled its Alexa-enabled precision oven to provide updates when the oven is preheated, when the food has reached a certain temperature, and when the meal is ready. These new developer features illustrate how the company is making Alexa more valuable in the smart home through the expansion of Alexa capabilities for third-party devices.
More on Voicebot.ai

Would You Like to Donate $1? 

UK charities Macmillan Cancer Support, NSPCC, and Crisis have launched interactive audio ads on Alexa devices that encourage radio station listeners to donate money. The ads — served to listeners of Bauer Media Stations — instruct listeners how to respond, and after, Alexa will ask how much they want to donate. Once the amount is confirmed, the payment is processed through the user’s Amazon Pay account. While interactive audio ads on smart speakers have started emerging into paid media strategies of major brands, their commerce features have been limited to coupons and product sampling. This donation use case is an example of how novel smart speaker ad experiences can engage consumers for any cause.
More on MobileMarketing

By the Numbers

60%

of US voice assistant users who are 18-24 years old use Apple’s Siri. (data via eMarketer)

$23M

was raised by Skit, which provides a customer service voice AI assistant that can answer customer queries over the phone. (data via Voicebot.ai)

Emerging Tech Stories 

  • No Hands. The Tokyo Toilet Project built a hands-free public bathroom activated by the phrase “Hi Toilet.”
  • Live Music. Amazon Music is developing a live audio service that will include shows, podcasts, panels, and more.

  • Gamer Talk. Online game platform Roblox is bringing live, proximity-based voice chat to users.

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