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  • Writer's pictureRon Jaworski

Audio and voice trends we’ll see in 2020

Updated: Nov 29, 2021

I am a huge sucker for all-things audio and voice so it should come as no surprise that I firmly believe 2020 will be the year of voice.

And the years beyond it – it will be all voice, all the time!.

In all seriousness, great things are in store for the technology that has consumer adoption faster than any product including the omnipresent smartphone. To paraphrase Bradley Metrock: the ecosystem is primed and just waiting for someone to light a match and start a fire.

What exactly will we witness in the upcoming year? Things like:

More encompassing text-to-speech tech

We’ll see the improved format of text-to-speech, both in terms of more languages and more styles like the Newscaster and Conversational speaking styles Amazon Polly offers, for instance. As people speak in different languages and speaking styles, the latest text-to-speech (TTS) systems will try to mimic as closely as possible human behavior to adjust to different contexts and overall improve customer experiences.

Also, more languages will have refined speaking styles and get closer to the same level as the English language is on. Local accents are on the way, but I’m not sure the next stage of TTS (powered by machine learning improvements) will happen that quickly. It’s far more likely 2021 will be the year where users get localized speech and more relevant experience based on their location or region. But as signs of ongoing development and personalization go, exciting stuff is coming up.

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Mandatory voice search prediction

It’s an uninspiring headline but you never know with voice search. Remember this:

“By 2020, 50% of all searches across the internet will be voice-based.”

It’s one of the most quoted and famous predictions about voice search, which turned out to be off the mark and quoted out of context. Then, there’s the more moderate prediction that “30% of web browsing will be screenless” by Gartner.

By all means, 2020 is expected to be the year of voice search so what will actually happen? It’s tough to say. One research showed voice search actually trended downward compared to the year before, and seeing as 72% of respondents have no plans to optimize for voice search in 2020, I feel as if it’s not going to move the needle all that much, sadly. I’m confident people will fully embrace voice search down the road once updates like BERT make it possible to understand searches better and privacy concerns are addressed – I just don’t think it’s going to happen in the next 12 months or so.

Bixby and custom voice assistants take off

There’s no doubt in my mind that Alexa and Google Assistant will remain the two powerhouses in the voice assistant market for the time being. They are just so far ahead that betting on any other outcome would be crazy.

Still, data points to Bixby having a major spike in usage in the next few months. There was a lot of pomp initially that somehow quieted down over time. Ever since Samsung launched the Bixby Marketplace in June (while making the voice assistant available on several Galaxy smartphones, tablets, and wearables), the number of registered developers doubled. The company is putting a lot of faith in its smart voice assistant, and its presence on almost all of Samsung’s electronic products will drive up its usage.

Siri will also gain increased exposure, in no small part thanks to AirPods. It’s difficult to gauge Apple’s strategy with Siri: WWDC 2019 was disappointing in that regard, and if we forget about the AirPods for a second, there is a stark contrast in voice AI strategy compared to Amazon and Google. Still, Siri is becoming more open to third-party apps, which indicates there are bigger plans in store for the voice assistant.

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We’ll start seeing more custom-based personal assistants, either based on what Alexa, Google Assistant, and others are doing right now and fine-tuning it to specific needs or built to specialize in one area of expertise or topic. It will be just the beginning of a more widespread and personalized voice assistant use that will likely produce a few novel use cases.

Smart speakers will slow down as opposed to smart displays and wearables

The industry is still figuring out different kinks on how to offer the ultimate user experience. Historically speaking, graphical interfaces have been almost exclusively oriented on a visual experience, which is a hard habit to shake off. That’s likely the reason why we’re seeing more of smart displays, and generally, the convergence of VUI and GUI.

I think we’ll see a more drastic slowdown in the adoption of smart speakers, especially as they are more limited in functionality compared to their visually-enhanced cousins. Not for nothing, but even an Echo Dot with a clock has been a great success largely due to the visual element attached to it.

Wearables will also play a significant role, especially hearables as a lot of companies are pushing for voice-first headphones now that they realize they can do far more than amplify music and make calls. For its obvious advantages like the proximity to mouth and always-on mode, ears are a highly valuable property that will continue to get special treatment in the form of dedicated smartphone-like capable devices.

Another year of all-time usage highs

On the other hand, we’ll definitely see more usage of voice assistants in general as more people get acquainted with the technology. In particular, most popular audio content such as podcasts and audiobooks will probably get really close to peaking in 2020, if not peak, with audio blogging experiencing significant growth.

While audio consumption will keep on increasing, I also believe brands and businesses will bite all the way into the entire voice strategy idea. They’ll take a step further from making skills and actions and generally smart speaker/device-oriented content and create their voice and audio avatars through voice chatbots and pre-recorded voices, quite possibly even famous ones in the vein of what Samuel L. Jackson and John Legend are doing right now.

More accessibility, more benefits

Those would be my predictions on audio and voice trends we’ll see in the upcoming year, and with that, I conclude my 2019 blogging. I’m sure the explosive growth of voice assistants, audio content, and the underlying AI will pull off a few surprises as the industry races to position voice as the face of the future where deeper, conversational-based experience prevails.

Until then: happy holidays and all the best in 2020!

Make sure you’re following me on Twitter for ongoing updates, tips, and industry takeaways!

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