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Technology

Alexa and Google Assistant Have a Problem: People Aren't Sticking With Voice Apps They Try (recode.net) 210

Amazon Echo and Google Home were the breakaway hits of the holiday shopping season. But both devices -- and the voice technologies that power them -- have some major hurdles to overcome if they want to keep both consumers and software developers engaged. From a report on Recode: That's one of the big takeaways from a new report that an industry startup, VoiceLabs, released on Monday. For starters, 69 percent of the 7,000-plus Alexa "Skills" -- voice apps, if you will -- have zero or one customer review, signaling low usage. What's more, when developers for Alexa and its competitor, Google Assistant, do get someone to enable a voice app, there's only a 3 percent chance, on average, that the person will be an active user by week 2, according to the report. (There are outliers that have week 2 retention rates of more than 20 percent.) For comparison's sake, Android and iOS apps have average retention rates of 13 percent and 11 percent, respectively, one week after first use. "There are lots of [voice] apps out there, but they are zombie apps," VoiceLabs co-founder Adam Marchick said in an interview.
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Alexa and Google Assistant Have a Problem: People Aren't Sticking With Voice Apps They Try

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  • Energy (Score:3, Funny)

    by InfiniteZero ( 587028 ) on Monday January 23, 2017 @03:24PM (#53722507)

    It's simple physics. Voice requires more energy than a few taps on the screen.

    • Re:Energy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SeaFox ( 739806 ) on Monday January 23, 2017 @03:29PM (#53722543)

      It can also require you to be careful how you pronounce the request, and the exact phrasing you use. The devices may advertise themselves as "natural language" interaction, but understanding a phrase when pauses for commas and such come into play, or overcoming the speaker's personal accent or speech issues isn't that easy..

    • Re:Energy (Score:5, Funny)

      by ZecretZquirrel ( 610310 ) on Monday January 23, 2017 @03:29PM (#53722549)
      They also require a level of privacy that your finger does not.
    • Re:Energy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Monday January 23, 2017 @03:44PM (#53722733)

      Not energy. But privacy and respect for others. Voice interface is popular in TV because it help move the plot. But in real life like translucent displays. Even with technology working perfectly just get in the way of civil life.

    • Re:Energy (Score:5, Interesting)

      by suso ( 153703 ) * on Monday January 23, 2017 @03:45PM (#53722743) Homepage Journal

      No its not that. Voice apps require you to remember the keyword used to trigger them. On my Echo, I can't remember all the special keyword phrases and grammar I have to use to trigger an app.

      I've found that the Echo is very useful for one unexpected thing: Kitchen timers. We cook a lot and being able to set and check timers hands free is invaluable. But the way you activate a timer is integrated into the system and very straight forward.

      • by Mouldy ( 1322581 )
        Even then it gets mixed up between timers and alarms. Eg,

        Me: "Alexa, set an timer for 10 minutes"
        Alexa: ..sets a timer that will beep in 10 minutes
        Me: "Alexa, how long is left on the timer"
        Alexa: "10 minutes"

        Seems fine. But if you do;
        Me: "Alexa, set an alarm for 10 minutes"
        Alexa: ...sets a timer that will beep in 10 minutes
        Me: "Alexa, how long is left on the alarm"
        Alexa: "There are no alarms set"
        Me" Alexa, how long is left on the timer"
        Alexa: "10 minutes"

        It will set a timer when you say "a
    • I don't even use voice control in social interactions, I just poke people until they understand.
  • Shocking! (Score:5, Funny)

    by grasshoppa ( 657393 ) <skennedy@NOSPAM.tpno-co.org> on Monday January 23, 2017 @03:29PM (#53722557) Homepage

    Do you mean to tell me that gimmicks have no longevity?

    Craziness.

  • by foxalopex ( 522681 ) on Monday January 23, 2017 @03:30PM (#53722559)

    I think maybe this problem is due to the novelty effect where it seems really cool to try it out a few times but after a while it doesn't seem like it makes life easier. Let's say you voice activate your lights despite having a light switch. I'm going to guess most of us have the light switch memorized so we'd hit it on and off even without looking or in the dark so changing to a voice activated system would likely slow you down. If you look at systems like Nest, they roughly figure out when you're home or not and then automatically adjust the heat and cooling to suit you. I'm sure the novelty would wear off if you had to tell it every time.

    What they really need is "star trek" like sliding doors when it knows what you need before you even realize it. That would be awesome.

    • I'm going to guess most of us have the light switch memorized so we'd hit it on and off even without looking or in the dark so changing to a voice activated system would likely slow you down.

      The other issue with voice activation is that it is hit or miss. When was the last time you hit a light switch and it decided to not turn on because you didn't hit it just right? I use voice recognition a lot on my phone because it is easier to say "show me the 5 day forecast" than to try to navigate the menus. Most apps are going to be gimmicky. The ones that are quicker and easier than typing though will continue to gain usage. Google could encourage this by allowing users to sort by long term usage

      • I use voice recognition a lot on my phone because it is easier to say "show me the 5 day forecast" than to try to navigate the menus.

        This.

        "OK Google ... what's the weather? ... OK Google ... How's my commute?" Every morning.

    • What they really need is "star trek" like sliding doors when it knows what you need before you even realize it. That would be awesome.

      Kind of like those automated doors at the grocery store that automatically open for you??

      ;)

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        No, the shop doors suck, randomly opening when a plastic bag bows past. The ones on Star Trek have door AI, they watch and anticipate when people are just walking past and when they want to come in.

        Just don't let them get too emotional like the ones on the Heart of Gold.

        • Yep. The doors on Star Trek are literally psychic: a character can run through them, let them close, and then lean against them instead of falling over because they re-opened.

        • by tsotha ( 720379 )
          The people are psychic, too. When the door is going to open the just confidently stride through. When a virus takes over the ship (or whatever) and the door won't work the crew smoothly stops in front of it, even if they had no way of knowing it wouldn't open.
        • by tsotha ( 720379 )
          BTW, the part about knowing who's going to use the door and who isn't is probably doable with cameras and enough processing power.
          • by JanneM ( 7445 )

            BTW, the part about knowing who's going to use the door and who isn't is probably doable with cameras and enough processing power.

            It is possible, and it has been built. A couple of colleagues in Sweden did just that for one manufacturer, more than fifteen years ago. The idea was to reduce the amount of heat lost from unnecessary door openings in winter, and to a lesser extent from cooling losses in summer.

            It would recognize who was aiming for the door versus those that just walked past. It wasn't fooled by

    • What they really need is "star trek" like sliding doors when it knows what you need before you even realize it. That would be awesome.

      Will they make the "shhhh" sound as they open? TAKE MY MONEY!

    • by vanyel ( 28049 )

      There are a few cases where it's really handy - the application I use most is the shopping list: while making stuff in the kitchen and noting I'm running low on something, I just sing out "add this to the shopping list" and it's done. Extremely convenient. I've also started using a dot as my alarm clock as it's easier to speak the time than to juggle the up/down buttons or even "alexa stop" than to groggily find the right button on the clock. I also use it where I don't have an alarm clock, e.g. reading,

      • There are a few cases where it's really handy - the application I use most is the shopping list: while making stuff in the kitchen and noting I'm running low on something, I just sing out "add this to the shopping list" and it's done. Extremely convenient.

        I've got one of those too, but when I sing the out "add this to the shopping list", she replies "no we have 4 packs already because you keep forgetting it's in the OTHER cupboard and why on earth did you just sing that?".

    • YMMV: We use our voice activation lights more than we use the switches these days.

      When the kid is a sleep I'll log into the web interface and switch the lights off that way.

  • by EndlessNameless ( 673105 ) on Monday January 23, 2017 @03:34PM (#53722603)

    We spent decades tweaking the graphical user interface to make it easy and efficient. We have very little interface design experience with voice.

    There is also a latency issue, at least with Google (no personal experience with Amazon, but I assume the same). That processing delay may be small on average, but it is extremely annoying---most especially when the internet is less than perfect, but also when it takes a very long time for no apparent reason.

    Some feedback, like status indicators for internet and background noise may help.

    The interface needs to mature. I don't think I can predict what that will look like. It is already extremely accurate, probably better than a human transciptionist, so this is more of an integration issue than a technical problem.

  • The issue is that most voice apps suck. For example:

    Me: Set an alarm for 8 PM
    Siri: Calling Dave
    • I use Siri for this sort of thing regularly - and in my experience it works pretty well.

      The real problem with voice interfaces, though, is there are very few tasks where using a voice interface is actually faster than just punching it in with your fingers. For me, at least, it's a pretty short list:

      - Setting alarms
      - Setting reminders
      - Playing a specific song or a specific album

      There's one other area where Siri could be theoretically useful - responding to messages while driving. However in my experience Sir

      • there are very few tasks where using a voice interface is actually faster than just punching it in with your fingers. {...}
        - Setting alarms
        - Setting reminders

        And that's because the "time input" interface of iOS is completely stupid.
        (compare with the "clock-face"-like interface. as seen on Jolla and other Mer derivatives).

        - Playing a specific song or a specific album

        Again, that mostly because iOS lacks a "Just type..." search interfae like Palm/HP webOS.

        (in webOS, starting to type on the physical keyboard will nearly always cause a reaction.
        - When in an app, it usually filters the on-screen list .
        - When outside, it causes some kind of desktop search. Any object that could correspond to the typed swquence is

      • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
        When Kinect voice was updated to Cortana, I had the experience he talked about. "Hey Cortana, go home" - "confirm 'turn off'"
  • Not surprising (Score:3, Insightful)

    by OneHundredAndTen ( 1523865 ) on Monday January 23, 2017 @03:35PM (#53722619)
    Currently, these so-called "intelligent assistants" are little more than toys. You play with them for a couple of days, they are kind of fun, but then the novelty of the toy wears off. They are OK when it comes to rather specific questions, and all but useless for issues that require a minimum of intelligence.I expect that, one day, they will live up to their name. As of today, they are toys.
    • I think the voice assistants on the phone are. They're funny for a few days looking for easter eggs then they get boring.

      The Amazon Echo and Dot are useful though, especially when you connect them to your home lighting- we've got a few rooms rigged up now. I use it mostly asking what the weather is going to be like, what time is it, what's on my calendar, set an alarm, etc... I get it to convert Farenheit to Centigrade for communicating with folk back home.

      all stuff I can do with my phone, but when I'm h

      • I never used the voice assistant on my phone though...

        I never have either, although I thought I would when driving. Saying "Hi Galaxy, call Home" seems like a really useful thing to be able to do, but I never have actually done it.

  • Siri Stop Navigating (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Princeofcups ( 150855 ) <john@princeofcups.com> on Monday January 23, 2017 @03:35PM (#53722623) Homepage

    Of all the possible uses of Siri, "Siri Stop Navigating" when you are trying to pull into a parking lot at your destination and she won't shut up about making a U-turn is about the only use that we've found yet. Voice is great for a minuscule number of real life situations.

  • by irrational_design ( 1895848 ) on Monday January 23, 2017 @03:38PM (#53722647)

    I am almost never in a place where I would feel comfortable talking aloud to me phone. Should I get up and go somewhere private to talk to my phone, or just stay here and use the screen? Hmm, that is such a tough decision.

    • While driving it is almost useful? Over all though it is mostly frustrating with Siri, anyhow. I've not tried any others.
    • by JohnFen ( 1641097 ) on Monday January 23, 2017 @03:52PM (#53722827)

      I am almost never in a place where I would feel comfortable talking aloud to me phone.

      I wish more people felt like you. The number of people talking to their phones in public places is getting annoying, but still not quite as annoying as people who have speaker phone conversations in public.

    • When I am in the kitchen, I use Echo to set timers (very useful), play/change music and do news briefings and stuff like that. Using a touchscreen when you are working with meat or baking is a pain.

      • sending all your conversations to amazon in the cloud is easier than using your stove timer which is washable?

        what an age to be alive!

        I could get behind smart voice recognition (i loved via voice back in the day), however the fact that it records everything youre saying all the time, and sends that data out to the internet, is extremely creepy! I don't know how people get around that mentally.

        Best not to think about it i guess.

        • It does not record everything that is said all the time. It does listen all the time for keyword recognition, and Amazon (along with Google) store recordings that you can go in and delete, but most people don't. Wired [wired.com] has a pretty decent write-up. Can I prove that Echo doesn't record all speech, even when not activated? I've looked and don't see any outbound traffic when it's not activated. I suppose it could be recording stuff surreptitiously, and sneaking out the compressed voice data it's been recor

  • Reliability (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BradleyUffner ( 103496 ) on Monday January 23, 2017 @03:45PM (#53722745) Homepage

    Voice control is still too unreliable for me. About half the times I try to use it, I end up repeating myself with different variations, trying to get the exact right phrasing it wants. I usually end up having to do it manually anyway. I might as well just skip those step and go right to the finger.

    When it works right the first time, it's like magic, but that is so rare.

    • by Weirsbaski ( 585954 ) on Monday January 23, 2017 @05:30PM (#53723737)
      My car uses voice-recognition to pick songs on the MP3 player. One time I told it to play "When I First Kissed You", and it started playing "Two Steps From Hell".

      I think my car is going through a bad break-up with the Chevy down the block.
    • My Samsung Galaxy S3 reliably understand about 100% of what I tell it, and that shit includes "etymology of persitalsis", "Diels-Alder reaction", "nucleophilic addition", "ambidextrous handguns", "Albert Camus most important works", "Brahms Hungarian Dances on Youtube", "dielectrophoresis". It's safe to say my phone is smarter than most people ;)

    • Some people just aren't adept at using the mouth and end up resorting to using the finger instead.
  • by xtal ( 49134 ) on Monday January 23, 2017 @03:49PM (#53722785)

    Voice to text is handy in a bunch of situations now. Mostly when I want to send someone a message when I'm walking or typing. It's sort of neat for appointments, and I use it all the time for setting a timer. ..on my phone.

    Screens and keyboards, or touch devices, are remarkably effective at conveying large amounts of information almost instantly. Voice is not an efficient medium. Do you know why people hate voicemail? Because it's slow and ineffective.

    Voice apps will be the next 3DTV, which should have been clear to everyone wasn't going anywhere. If you have to put on goggles, it might as well be a VR headset..

    In the meantime, I can order from Amazon from my tablet in a few seconds, deal with issues and confirmations, while I'm watching Netflix on my 65" regular 2D TV.

  • Isn't nice to know that everything you do with these things is tracked? Oh ya, and a FUCK APPLE just because.
  • Speaking as an Echo owner, I've found that most of the apps I've found have been rubbish (translation: garbage). But that's not all that surprising: this is a completely new paradigm, on a par with WIMP. It's hardly surprising that
    i) developers haven't yet really discovered what works well, nor have users discovered and popularised them; and
    ii) the marketplace is flooded with junk, because it hasn't yet found a bedrock of solid, popular, useful stuff.

    But it'll come. I keep my Echo in the kitchen, and settin

  • by hackingbear ( 988354 ) on Monday January 23, 2017 @04:09PM (#53723005)

    me: Alexa, why can't you just understand my question?

    alexa: Sorry, I don't understand this question. Please check out the list of questions I can understand on the App.

  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Monday January 23, 2017 @04:10PM (#53723015) Journal

    There, I said it.

    It doesn't mean they're totally USELESS; no. For the majority of situations, they're more trouble than they're worth.

    First, you have to be in exactly the right situation - there cannot be background noise or crosstalk - so essentially, a nearly SILENT room. How many of us spend a substantial amount of time in silence? I'm certainly not going to use a voice app on a bus, plane, or in public even if it was quiet, because anyone who does that is an obnoxious asshole.

    Second, you have to know exactly the syntax the system is looking for. On my stupid car (BMX x5) it has voice activation but I'll be damned if I can ever remember what phrases it wants. "CALL HOME" (doesn't work, oh yeah, have to kick it to the phone menu) "PHONE" phone connected "CALL HOME" many results pick one.
    Sigh. Oh, and my wife's name is Dawn, so fuck me if I don't have to sort through every damn "DON" in my phone book, distracting me away from the road while I do that - what am I *saving* using a voice app, again?

    Third, you have to inevitably put up with a substantial failure rate. If I try to use a voice app for the simplest thing, dictating a slowly, clearly spoken text, I have to expect to spend the next few moments re-reading, editing, and correcting the text. If I'm trying to use it to come up with harder info - like names, in the example above - it's just a crapton easier to dial the number myself.

    And I'm a Minnesotan (a region reputed to have a relatively clear style of speaking). I can't imagine how hard it must be for people with less intellgible accents.

    • First, you have to be in exactly the right situation - there cannot be background noise or crosstalk - so essentially, a nearly SILENT room

      That's what I used to think. Google lets you browse and replay your past voice recognition history [google.com]. I was surprised to find the noise cancellation mics they have on modern phones are really, really good. Even stuff I said while driving on the highway with the phone in a cup holder is perfectly intelligible.

      Ever since, I've been using "Ok Google" more often in nois

  • I think their biggest problem is that they are completely useless devices, while at the same time being highly intrusive. I cannot think of a single compelling reason to have one. There is nothing that would cause me to remark, "Wow! I can't wait until I get my Alexa so I can do _________ ."

    • I couldn't disagree more. I bought Google Home 2 weeks before my first kid was born. It has been awesome in that use case. Holding a screaming kid and want to update your shopping list? "Hey Google, add milk to shopping list." Meanwhile, my wife gets the update instantly on our shared Google Keep shopping list while at the store. Want to know if that eye crusty is something to be concerned about? Ask Google. I have Phillips Hue in every room in my house... 2 A.M. the baby needs to be changed - "Hey Goog
  • If you're going to buy something, whether new to you or a "refill", a device with a screen is better. Lots of information is immediately available for a quick read. This includes things like price, choice of vendors, warranty, user reviews. Even for a repeat purchase, something may have changed since the last purchase. Even for music apps, looking at your playlists for choices or perhaps looking for something new to listen to and seeing where you are in an album or play list, a screen is better. A weather app has far more information on screen than just one answer from one of these verbal only devices. The results of a search using a search app give many selections on screen to figure which might be the best result for what you want. I'm sure readers here can give many more examples where a device with a screen is far superior to one of these tube shaped so called AI based smart devices.
  • While Amazon's Echo does seem to have gained some traction among the geek set, I'm not sure why Google Home was included here... unless the article was written by a Google fanboy.

    I've seen a number of Echos in the wild, but not one Google device.

  • by popo ( 107611 ) on Monday January 23, 2017 @04:30PM (#53723229) Homepage

    If you want to know what the precursor to deflation in a sector, or the broader economy is, it's referred to by economists as an "overhang in productive capacity".

    It's when there's more productiion than demand. And .. it's bad. Really bad.

    It's an indication that an industry or a society has jumped the shark, and investment has crossed the line into mal-investment by exceeding consumer demand.

    That's where we are now.

    We have too many app developers. Too many coders. Too many UX designers. Too many entrepreneurs seeking first-mover advantage on new platforms.

    Along comes the Echo and *bang*... there's a glut before there was ever a "thing".

    Historically and mathematically speaking what comes next is a withering of said capacity. It's not going to be fun.

  • I find voice very useful. But the current "apps ecosystem" sucks, in addition to being a privacy nightmare. Most voice recognition should probably be on device, not in the cloud. That is, instead of some complex Rube Goldberg contraption springing into action when I say "OK Google, turn on bedroom lights", the bedroom lights should just understand voice directly.

    I understand why that isn't working just yet (lightbulbs don't have enough computational power yet), but I expect it won't be long before that's ho

  • I personally have three options different voice ..Google on my phone, Alexa on my Fire TV, and Cortana on my computer and Xbox One. Three varying experiences. Cortana i barely use because I only use my Xbox for gaming which I seldom have time to do. Alexa on Fire TV i hardly use because once I've got Fire TV on most likely I'm going to netflix which doesn't support voice (lame as fuck). Google I used frequently on my phone till I migrated to a new phone in December and it completely forgot how to lis
  • The apps are buggy (Score:4, Informative)

    by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) on Monday January 23, 2017 @05:02PM (#53723535) Homepage

    I used to use Google Assistant daily, and I liked it. Now I almost never do, because it is buggy, and it gets buggier with each release. It's highly accurate, *when it works at all*.

    Voice recognition quality:
    The voice recognition quality is stunningly accurate. It almost never gets things wrong. This is the hardest part, and they nailed it. But it seems like they had an intern write the rest of the code. Maybe it just wasn't exciting enough?

    Speed:
    My Galaxy S5, in 2015: "Okay google" *beep* "Send a text to..."
    My Galaxy S5, in 2017: "Okay google" (45 second delay) *screen flash* "Send a text to..." (15 second delay)
    This isn't just my specific phone, because my wife has the same model, but with almost no apps installed, and it performs the same way.

    Bad parsing code:
    If you give Google assistant a command that is more that some arbitrary limit, like 256 characters or something, it gets stuck in a loop.
    I say "Okay Google, send a text to Harold Smith, saying that ... 2 paragraphs of text..." Google shows me the exact correct text I spoke, in a text box, then promptly says "Who do you want to send this text to?" Confused, I respond "Harold Smith" then it correctly finds the contact, then says "What would you like the text to be?" I say the text, it transcribes it perfectly, then says "Who do you want to send this text to?"

    Bad contact lookup:
    I say "Okay Google, send text to Dad" then it says "I cannot find a contact named Dad." Then I open my contact list, and there is a single entry named "Dad" with a cell phone number on it. Same spelling, same case.

    No retry logic:
    Sometimes it tells me something like "I'm sorry, I wasn't able to contact the server, please repeat that again." Why would I have to repeat it? Didn't it just record my voice? Other times, it actually transcribes the text, then tells me it couldn't contact the server. Ummm.... what? And it does that even if the action is local and doesn't require the server, like running an app or adding an appointment to my local calendar.

    Must look down at the screen to use it:
    On my iPhone, it would repeat back to me the message and prompt me to confirm. With Google Assistant, I have to look down at my phone and read it. I used my iPhone to send voice texts while on the road. I can't do that with Google Assistant since the whole point is to not have to take my eyes off the road.

    Poor app integration:
    After I send a text, it isn't in my text history.

  • i agree that most of the alexa skills are useless. they are junk. read them, they are like joke tellers or useless trivia.

    but some are very useful. i think the key here is (as someone said above) we have 25+ years of GUI experience and about 2 of voice as UI experience. Give it some time.

    A lot of these posts are mixing up alexa/google home and siri/phone. those are very different use cases. I don't like siri on my phone. i love alexa. we have three and use them all the time. but its about finding t

  • ...How many people even know that there are "apps" for these devices? It's not like they are really advertised or promoted. The Echo certainly doesn't tell you about them or ofFer suggestions. Other than a small banner on the Amazon site that can be easily missed, I would imagine few people even know that they can expand the capability of their devices.

  • It's a lot like the early web... There were the "official" web sites which looked good, loaded quickly, and worked. And then there were java applets, which were slow to load, buggy, and looked like high school projects.

    It's pretty much the same. The features that come built-in are really good, voice recognition is fantastic, and it's overall a useful gadget to have to play music, set timers, reminders, check weather, and sports schedules.

    Try to use any of the silly "skills" available, and you'll be very dis

  • Try speaking in Tamil or Tamil accent to Google Assistant. Sundar Pichai is a Tamilian and they might make sure that accent works correctly when they demo it to their boss.
  • Most are uninteresting, useless, or easier to do some other way. Its great to be able to come home and talk to it and have my lights go on, or tell it what song to play from Spotify, or ask it about the weather - when it actually understands. Having tried to develop an Alexa skill for my own use, its clear how the only way to get it to react to natural sentences is for the skill developer to come up with pretty much every combination and ordering of words for which the user might convey what it is that th

  • I've had an echo and two echo dot's around the house for several months. I keep the full size echo in the kitchen and it's incredibly useful. Just the voice controlled music is almost worth the price of admission but being able to set timers and convert measurements while your hands are covered in food is absolutely awesome.

    The first dot mainly plays music in my living room but the second I use as an alarm clock and music player in my bed room. It's really nice not to have that bright LED screen glarin

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