Voice technology: 9 examples that show why it’s not where it needs to be

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Amazon and Google are making some bold claims around voice technology. ‘Let Google do it’, the adverts for Google Home confidently proclaim. Our research, however, suggests that if your ‘it’ is anything more than basic, then these voice activated devices could struggle.

Our testing and research covers hours of talking to these devices, a wide range of commands covering all sectors and use cases, and a cross section of accents from Manc to Mexican.

And in a lot of cases, our research suggests that for all their financial might, Google and Amazon are a long way from cracking the nuances of language and dialect.

Here are 9 simple enough searches we conducted which prove our point:

1. Alexa, what is an enclave?

OK, so enclave might not be the most commonly used phrase in the English language but, providing a definition should be a pretty simple task for a technology claiming to make our lives easier. So, when we received the response "Nicolas Cave is a rock musician..." followed by some details of his accomplishments we started to wonder how good at understanding the nuances of language these devices really were.

2. Siri, show me results for: what is the shortest day of the year?

A relatively simple request. A standard Google or Bing search will help you find the answer relatively easily. Siri’s response? “I have results from multiple leagues. Would you like to see [sports]?"...

3. Cortana, how do you make gravy?

One of the stereotypical use cases for home devices pictures them in the corner of the kitchen, placing orders, providing advice, basically being the assistant they claim to be. So, recipes should be their bread and butter (excuse the pun). Cortana's advice for making gravy? "Words fail me." Gee thanks Cortana, mighty useful advice….

4. Alexa, train station near me.

Location based information, travel advice, on the go information - all a core part of the future of voice search, right? Alexa's response to a query from central Manchester, equidistant from 4 major rail stations? “I couldn't find a station for train” Good job we know where they are, really.

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5. Alexa, I want to buy a new car.

OK great, an easy one. Just bring me back details of the local car dealers based on my device location, you’ve got this Alexa… “I found Air Freshners (New Car Scent) for only..."

6. Alexa, best cornflake pie recipes.

OK this is your moment Alexa, you’re the kitchen voice assistant, sock it to me, this is your time….” Okay, how about Fishpie recipe from recipedia” What, for breakfast?

7. Siri, show me results for best hair shampoo for men.

The retailer’s dream. You’ve got your reviews, you spend on advertising, your schema markup is on point, videos, meta, all optimised in line with “best practice” it’s got to be you…. Nope! Siri showed us football results.

8. Alexa, who is the best celebrity chef?

An easy one. Jamie Oliver? Heston Blumenthal? Marco Pierre White? “That would be Ronaldo.”

9. Siri, I want to buy a France World Cup shirt?

World Cup fever has hit, the world is football mad, France are on the charge, take my money! Sadly, this voice device thinks we’re saying 'shit'.

Personally, I don't think these queries are difficult to understand and N Clave aside, really shouldn’t produce any confusion for the technology solution we are led to believe voice is, or is to become. Which all goes to show that voice search has a long way to go in order to be the foundation of future human/technology interactions.

If you want to read some more of our findings, then our first guide to Voice Technology is now available for download.

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