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Cars are the natural fit for voice tech - and the race is on

Sarah De Martin takes a closer look at the latest developments in the battle to own the dashboard

news and insights
#Voice Search

This article originally appeared on Automotive World here.


Google and Amazon are vying to get as many of their smart speakers into our homes as possible. The hype and heavy discounting is working—four in ten households now own at least one device—but people can find themselves at a loss as what to do with them. Cars appear to be a much better fit for the technology, and this hasn’t been lost on the digital giants.

The race to own the dashboard started with the launch of Android Auto for smartphones in 2014. Since then, tech firms and car manufacturers have been competing to make our Knight Rider fantasies a reality. Some car manufacturers are aligning their brands to voice services from the global tech firms, notably Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Echo Auto. Others are striking out on their own; BMW and Mercedes-Benz have been integrating their own voice assistants into their infotainment systems since last year, and Ford has also launched its own service, greatly expanding consumer exposure to the technology beyond executive models.

When it comes to the ‘chicken and egg’ argument, there is already a clear demand for automotive voice services. Artefact recently conducted research into how people in the UK are using voice, and it revealed that nearly half (47%) of respondents already use voice controls of some type while driving, through smartphones.

Safety is the core motivation—it makes sense to use voice commands rather than manually fiddling with radios, satnavs, or indeed smartphones whilst at the wheel. However, manufacturers that aspire to control the in-car space through their own branded services face an uphill struggle. The digital giants’ strategy for the longer term is to employ voice everywhere: a joined-up, voice-based ecosystem that offers a consistent user experience wherever we may be.

It makes for a compelling vision of a smart future. Just consider the potential to use voice to talk to our car to set the heating, order food and line up a movie, all while we’re on the commute home. It’s no great surprise that research from JD Power revealed that threequarters of consumers want the same voice assistants both in their homes and in their cars.

So, where does that leave the auto brands? A hybrid scenario would be a sensible option. Bespoke systems aligned to convenience would allow for intuitive voice control of functions such as air conditioning, reducing the number of buttons crowding the steering wheel. In addition, branded voice skills would allow manufacturers to interface with the third-party assistants that consumers want to see in-car, such as Echo Auto: perhaps an automaker voice concierge that could keep you updated on car health and servicing, or an app to interface with a major parking brand to allow voice payment for parking?

There are numerous possibilities, but it’s up to the car brands to identify the applications their customers would find genuinely useful. They need to do so quickly, though. As consumer interest in voice builds, there will be a host of third-party developers using the same ecosystems to seize the in-car opportunity.


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