The rise of voice search in 2017

Voice search has been revealed as one of Gartner’s top tech trends of 2017, but what is it and why will it become so big?

voice recognition and commands

Whatever you use to perform web searches, whether it's your mobile, tablet or desktop, it's likely it's all about to change. Soon, you'll be scrapping the keyboard and reaching for the voice activation button instead - that's if predictions from analyst firm Gartner and Comscore are correct.

For example, Gartner thinks that by 2020, 30% of web browsing sessions will be carried out without a screen and this means voice will begin its quest to take over from the keyboard (whether virtual on a smartphone or hardware on a desktop).

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"New audio-centric technologies, such as Google Home and Amazon's Echo, are making access to dialogue-based information ubiquitous and spawning new platforms based on "voice-first" interactions," the company said in its report into 2017 trends.

Comscore is a little more optimistic, saying it thinks 50% of searches will be made by voice by 2020.

Thanks to the introduction of voice assistants such as Amazon Echo, Apple Siri, Google Now and Microsoft's Cortana, tech innovators are deeming the keyboard defunct, instead encouraging everyone to use their voice to search the internet.

What is voice search?

Voice search allows you to simply read out what you'd like to search for. It's usual for a variety of things, whether you want to find out information using a search engine, directions to a meeting or want your virtual voice assistant to call someone for you, rather than having to type a search into Google, Bing or any other search engine of your choice, find a phone number or address of your next meeting manually.

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You'll usually need to say a command first, such as "OK, Google" to trigger the speech recognition software to start running, but once you get confirmation it's listening, you can simply speak your request.

Your words are sent to servers, de-scrambled using speech recognition algorithms working in tandem with machine learning to identify the pattern of speech and then this information is sent to the search engine to perform the search, trawl your device for the meeting you're supposed to be traveling to or your contacts to find who you want to call.

The response then pings back to the server, where it's either presented as a web page to your device, it performs the action, or, if you're using a speaker such as Google Home or Amazon Echo, it'll transform back into natural speech and be amplified for your entire family to hear. All of this happens in seconds - you won't even notice the process behind it even happened.

How popular is voice search?

Although technology firms would have us believe voice search is going to soon outstrip the number of people using typed search to find what they're looking for, Google has revealed the technology still only accounts for approximately 20% of all searches performed on its Android and mobile apps. Overall, across all platforms, just 12% of searches are made using voice, according to the tech giant. 

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However, Google voice search queries increased by 35x in 2016 compared to 2008, showing it is an increasingly used technology.

Why is voice search becoming so ubiquitous?

The main reason why voice search is set to grow is the introduction of keyboardless devices and assistants powering up your smart home. We're referring to Google Home, Amazon Echo and other devices including your smartphone and tablet that connect to your media, the internet and generally help you plan your life.

Accuracy is also improving considerably, which makes more people want to use voice search. Google claims its voice recognition accuracy is now at 92% (last year it was 75%) and although this means you're still likely to get some inaccurate results filtering through, the more people that use voice search to power their lives, the more the algorithms behind them will learn what you're asking for, producing relevant and better results.

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