When predicting the future of the smartphone, what instantly comes to mind is ultra-slim foldable devices capable of displaying holograms and projecting 3D videos, with maybe even — this might be too wild — a battery that lasts more than a day.
But beyond the exterior design tweaks and spec upgrades, smartphones are undergoing a much greater evolution — one that’s already having a significant impact on how we use and interact with our devices. This mobile revolution is being driven by advances like voice search, AI, and augmented reality — technologies that free users from the limitations of the screen and create much more integrated and immersive digital experiences.
With such a disruptive shift about to hit the mainstream, businesses and marketers need to be ready if they’re not to be left behind. One question that can’t be considered too soon, then, is how exactly will this new mode of interaction change the design of our mobile devices?
The only interface you’ll ever need
Homes are filling up with devices — laptops, tablets, smartphones, fridges, security systems — that are smart on their own but dumb together. Voice assistants aim to be the mesh that binds them all together, acting as one overarching interface through which users can manage and control the whole ecosystem of devices, from whenever and whichever touchpoint they like.
From doing the food shopping and checking the weather to starting the car and leaving a hotel review, the smartphone will continue to be the primary touchpoint of choice. However, that won’t look like users craning their necks and prodding tiny buttons. The idea of AI-enhanced voice technology is that our the assistant will become so smart and attuned to our preferences that we’ll forget our devices are even there.
We can see this in Apple, Google and Amazon’s race to develop ‘hearables’ — voice assistants in wireless earphones; a move that’ll allow users to make requests and purchases without taking out their phone. But the screen will still play an important role in the customer journey — particularly in the purchase of products and services. Users may be becoming more comfortable with making mobile payments via voice, but whenever a transaction is involved, they want to see visual representations and confirmation.
To create seamless, multi-channel experiences, businesses need to ensure that voice integrates well across multiple devices. Whereas a customer may start making plans for their holiday on their laptop — viewing photos of destinations, comparing flights, etc. — they may move to their Echo to listen to hotel reviews while in the shower, then later complete the booking on their phone when in a cab.
To understand where mobile design is heading and adjust accordingly, you’ve got to go beyond the idea that ‘mobile’ is only associated with the smartphone. In particular, by understanding the reasons why users prefer voice over manual search — i.e. it’s quicker, more accurate, can be done during other tasks. These are the principles that will guide your web design strategy into the new era of mobile.
With over 25,000 already developed, many brands have already created custom voice-based apps, or ‘Skills’, as they’re known on Amazon’s developer platform. For instance, Campbell’s Kitchen that helps customers choose recipes then takes them through the cooking process. Or Stain Remover from Tide, an app that dishes out advice on over 200 types of stains.
To make a successful voice journey, it’s all about recognising the limitations and unique capabilities of each device. And as with all digital experiences, the key is that if it can solve a pain point or excite customers, it can bring value.
The biggest implication of voice on mobile design, other than the integration with multi-channel voice journeys, will likely be the change in how customers find businesses. For example, if someone uses voice search to find a web design agency, instead of ‘web design Leeds’, they may ask, “What is the best web design agency within 5 miles of here that specialise in WordPress?”.
But that’s not all; as well as super specific searches by the user, voice assistants will tailor its response according to their past behaviour and preferences, for instance driving routes, spending bracket, and friend’s reviews on social networks. All this leads to businesses needing to shape their journeys into distinctive and highly-personalised digital experiences. Those that do this, and find their own voice in a particular niche or sub-niche, will ultimately fare well in voice search.
Taking design and reality to another level
Voice is undoubtedly the major technology that will change how we use our phones. But a lot of the time, like when comparison shopping or buying a product, data needs to be visualised. For this reason, augmented reality is a complementary technology to voice. Simply put, like voice, AR allows users to envisage digital experiences without disappearing windows deep into their smartphone or browser.
One big advantage of AR is in that, unlike static search results, information that can be visualised is more ‘alive’ — it isn’t separate from reality like SERPs, but laid directly on top. This gives brands more autonomy and flexibility over how they interact with users, for example, by allowing a business to extend its customer journey beyond its physical locality and into the surrounding cityscape.
Most AR apps today are used in this way by employing GPS in facilitating location searches. A common use case would be someone pointing the camera on their phone to search for a restaurant in the area. The user may find a few rated highly restaurants, but notice a new place offering a 20 percent discount for the next five customers through the door. Taking this a step further, the app could then use data from the voice assistant to confirm the restaurant is apt for their preferences — quiet, kids menu, veggie options — and set them on their way with a virtually superimposed map overlay.
This localised and ‘live’ approach will help level the playing field for businesses that have long felt neglected by conventional search. No longer will being found be about sheer capital and marketing mite, but how relatable your brand is and tailored your experiences are to customers. Success on mobile will be dictated more by the ingenuity of design; it’s a fact. The only real problem you’ll face, thanks to the infinite number of applications of both AR and voice, is choosing how you’ll use them in a way that brings the most value to your customers.