The rise of digital assistants and in-home hubs is staring at the precipice of becoming ubiquitous. Amazon’s Alexa. Apple’s Siri. Google’s, well, Google. You know you’re the company to beat when you don’t have to name your digital assistant.
Yesterday saw a subtle linguistic shift that is massive in its implications. Google wasn’t out to show you what users can get from Google, but what we can get from our Google. “Our goal,” CEO Sundar Pichai said, “is to build a personal Google for each and every user.”
Artificial intelligence will combine with its voice-controlled digital assistant to make a Google for everyone. If it sounds like a repackaged Google Now, it’s because it is. On steroids.
Like all the others in the digital assistant space, the advancements are staggering. And they have the potential to leave people behind. I have zero issue with advancing technology, but always leave a path for those not able to use the assistant to its fullest extent.
I touched on my own battle with stuttering before. People with speech impediments are simply going to be left out if the advancements are simply for the sake of ‘look, new feature.’ I’ve used Apple’s Siri exactly twice. Alexa from Amazon once. I never used Google Now, and the new voice-controlled Google Assistant will gather digital dust.
Digital assistants have become my 21st-century drive-thru box. I may have beaten my stuttering, but there’s one hell of a block when it comes to asking Siri, Alexa or Google. It’s weird. I can call for reservations without a problem. Turning Siri on? Boom, instant block.
UX Could Inadvertently Forget Accessibility
No one, especially me, is knocking Google or other companies. I’m way too much of a gadget nut to say slow down. It’s a concern that as hardware further develops, product designers and executives will want to get rid of more ports or old features.
Was Apple courageous in nixing the audio jack? Of course not, but expecting Apple to stand on stage and say it was a business decision will never happen. But, they aren’t wrong in the idea that if we want more ‘future,’ some of the past has to go.
An audio jack is fine. We can all grumble and poke fun, but there are ways around that. Lightning connections have audio specs baked in. And other companies will follow in its wake to put more ‘future’ in our pockets.
But look at Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home. Gorgeous design but you can see the buttons disappearing one by one. Even the iPhone 8 is rumored to lose the home button entirely. From an objective point of view, the UX will be phenomenal. To an extent.
For those with speech impediments, that amazing voice-controlled user experience turns into one hell of a barrier. Unless I can have a conversation with it. I’m the weird stutterer who can talk to you all day without a problem, but ask me to repeat something? It’ll be interesting, and I’ll say ‘like’ an absurd amount.
Need to ask a digital assistant for directions? It’s a coin flip. I can be perfectly fluent, or I pick up a slight stutter. Then comes the game of repeating what I’m searching for. The law of diminishing returns happens in a hurry.
Today, we have keyboards and other shortcuts. The in-home hubs have remotes. The backups are there. And they need to stay there. It’ll be tempting to go remoteless and work purely through voice activation eventually. Sounds great, but the reality is there are 70 million stutterers worldwide (millions more with other speech impediments) who are horrified by that prospect. It’s not because we can’t make it work or can’t overcome our own personal battles.
The problem is emerging out of a hard stutter either involves time or the Samuel L. Jackson method. Play motha$&%# Netflix is fine when it’s just you. Movie night with the family? Well, it depends on your family…
I may have cursed the Xfinity voice remote a time or two. Crazy thing, it worked.
Yes, ditching the remote will be a temptation. Frankly when you have product design that looks incredible for the hub, the remote seems out of place. While you’ll never have an elegant remote design, it is the backup people like me with speech impediments need. Even better would be a Minority Report style screen. Let’s get those out in the wild before a company’s ‘courage’ accidentally strips a major accessibility point.
All I ask is tech companies take a step back and remember the human element. It may not be the elegant solution, but we always find a way to make it work. It’s what we do.
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