The history of graphical user interfaces can be traced back for several decades. Even so, most experts agree that while there have been countless enhancements during that time, the basic principles of how we use interfaces haven’t really changed at all. Someone came up with a set of basic rules, and we’ve mostly stuck to them.
The consistency of graphical interfaces has proven one thing: convenience always wins. If not for interfaces, computers would’ve remained as devices to be used exclusively by professionals. Their conception as a product for personal use wouldn’t have happened. Now, interfaces are everywhere. Videogames, the web, touchscreen devices and even everyday objects like ovens, refrigerators and cars.
… by 2020, 30% of our browse sessions will be voice conducted
If convenience wins—and interfaces have won because they are designed to be easy to understand—then are we to assume that how we use our tech today is the best way to do it? Not only is the answer a huge “NO,” there’s already considerable evidence of what the next thing will be.
In a word? Voice.
In more words, the use of language. With the rise of AI and virtual assistant, simple voice commands and requests will be the easiest way for us to interact with the devices. It’s a trend that has already started and, while still in its infant state, paints a picture of what’s to come.
Analytics and research firm Gartner predicts that, by 2020, 30% of our browse sessions will be voice conducted. That’s just in two years, and all thanks to products such as Apple’s AirPods, Google Home and Amazon’s Echo, which “are turning ‘voice first’ interactions into ubiquitous experiences.”
Products like these are already being developed and released, and they’re immensely popular not only in the media, but for consumers as well. Amazon claims it has sold “millions” of its Echo Dot device, which was the best-selling product on the site during the holydays.
In other words, they’re already in the hands of consumers. And while simple commands are the only way they can work for now, it’s not hard to imagine how that way of operating will soon migrate to other devices. Virtual assistants were actually born on smartphones, for example. But Apple eventually sent Siri to macOS, and one of Windows 10’s main features is the inclusion of Cortana.
It’s only natural, then, that we’ll use our mouse, keyboard and display less; in the same way that we’ll tap less and less on our phones. They’ll still remain there, to be sure. But the day that computers can achieve natural speech is the day that many of us won’t bother to “turn them on.”
Graphical interfaces are one of mankind’s smartest solutions. But they still need a certain level of familiarity and basic knowledge to handle. While the problem of a generational gap of tech illiterates won’t exist in the future, that barrier of entry will forever exist for a lot of people. Conversation, on the other hand, is one of the most natural things for humans to engage in.
Obstacles will, undoublty, present themselves. Perhaps the most obvious one will be language: most of the fancy tech built today revolves around English. While other languages like Spanish or French will certainly have viable platforms of their own, dozens, in not hundreds of others will be left in the dust. Simple translation won’t do the trick: the point of having natural speech is for machines to understand every little quirk, expression and even accent of casual conversation.
Nonetheless, that will only be one more step towards the inevitable. Graphical interfaces have dominated our civilization for the last few decades, but speech might take that spot again sooner than you think.