Why voice has only just begun

Why voice has only just begun

About a month ago, Google released its Assistant in the Netherlands. You probably haven’t noticed any big changes in your everyday life, but with the launch of Google Assistant, the Netherlands has entered a new technological phase. Yet this is only the beginning.

Rogers’ diffusion of innovation

We all know these terms: innovators, early majority, late majority, and laggards. They stem from Everett Rogers’ model of the adoption of new technologies, developed back in the 1960s. 

 Everett Roger’s model of diffusion of innovation

Everett Roger’s model of diffusion of innovation

On top of Rogers’ bell curve, we can plot an S-curve that shows market penetration:

 Market penetration (in red) on top of Rogers’ model of diffusion of innovation

Market penetration (in red) on top of Rogers’ model of diffusion of innovation

I often divide the S-curve into two equal parts. During the first half of the curve, a technology is still young; creators and consumers are still looking for its best use cases. 

An example: in my first few years at news broadcaster NOS, we used to have meetings on how an index of news articles should look on mobile. Back then, there was no standard that said an index should have articles with a thumbnail and a title. By now, we’ve long moved beyond that stage.

In the second half of the S-curve, the focus is on optimization. At that point, we know how to apply the technology. Companies have employees whose job is centered around the channel, the technology has become a collection of specializations, and progress has become more predictable and incremental.

These adoption curves are not independent; they follow previous curves. Mobile is now the dominant tech platform, but it was preceded by desktop internet, telex, etcetera. Adoption curves also overlap; desktop websites are still very important, and mobile is not going away anytime soon.

Where does voice stand today?

Today’s numbers don’t yet show a clear picture of the Dutch voice market, but it’s possible to have a look at more mature voice markets. On those markets, adoption is going faster than we’ve ever witnessed before.

 A look at mature voice markets, using Rogers’ model of diffusion of innovation

A look at mature voice markets, using Rogers’ model of diffusion of innovation

If we plot the available numbers on the curve, we see that a few markets are already entering the early majority phase of consumer adoption. There are no indications that this growth will slow down soon or that we’ll see a radically different path of development in The Netherlands.

Revolution?

Will the arrival of voice cause a revolution? No, I don’t believe in revolution. At most, I believe in a perception of revolution by those who focus only on the past. MIT fellow Butler Lampson once said that every technology that will have a significant impact during the next 10 years has already been around for at least a decade. In other words: you can prepare for tomorrow’s world today.

Voice is still in its early days. That means you still have time to get started. This is the right moment to begin exploring, without there being any big risks involved. After all, this is the best time for discovering new use cases. 

Services that will soon turn into verbs are being developed today. The desktop internet era brought us googling, the mobile age brought us appen. In a few years time, will your brand refer to an entire product category?


This is part 1 of a series on voice assistants. In the next part, Sam will go into depth about when to use voice interfaces, when to stick with graphic user interfaces, and when to combine the two.