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Mar 23, 2020 | Read time 6 min

Wearables: Can I really wear voice technology?

Wearables with voice technology integrated move voice-based interfaces closer to the consumer through products like watches, earbuds and clothing.

Voice technology has never been more popular. Now, more than ever, these types of technologies are being integrated into a range of products. Wearables move voice-based interfaces closer to the consumer through products like watches, earbuds, clothing and even jewelry.

The roll-out of voice technology into these products allow consumers to more easily interact with a range of visual user interfaces (UIs) or even replace the need for them in certain situations. Now, consumers can use their voice to control the world around them.

The rise of wearable technology

The recent rise in voice-enabled wearable technologies has been triggered by a number of factors.

  • Recent advancements in the accuracy of speech recognition technology mean that converting speech-to-text can be achieved with the lowest levels of word error rates. This is achieved in more accents and languages than ever before.

  • Small form factor microphones and speakers can now deliver exceptional audio quality. With the capability to eliminate further noise from utterances, the accuracy of the voice technology is further enhanced.

  • Voice services can be delivered faster than ever meaning that even real-time voice services hosted in the cloud can be processed. The actions that they trigger are carried out almost instantaneously. When compared with digital video, packets of voice data are tiny. This is especially the case for Internet service provider (ISP) networks that have been scaled to deliver video in 4k and above, on-demand and with the lowest levels of latency and buffering. The advent of 5G further enables wearable technology to continue to evolve to deliver seamless real-time capabilities no matter where the user is located.

The integration of speech recognition technology into wearables provides users with a simple and elegant UI. It eliminates the requirement to learn numerous visual interfaces dependent on the device it is installed on. Not only this, but it is also beneficial from an accessibility standpoint for those who are physically or visually impaired.

Wearables are a convenient way to stay connected in any situation

There is no denying that smartphones are a fashion statement with millions spent on their design. As a result, the latest handsets are highly coveted. Not only by the Instagram elite and fashionistas but businesspeople and professionals alike. But with that said, wouldn’t you rather have something a little more elegant when you are at a black-tie dinner? Surely you don’t want a slab of black plastic protruding from your pocket or messing with the lines of your well-tailored suit or designer ball gown. Isn’t a voice assistant embedded into a watch, ring, necklace or earring a more convenient solution?

Wearables are not just a fashion accessory. The shrinking of the hardware elements required to add a technology application now means that almost any wearable can be made smart. The addition of voice has the capability to impact overall usability and improve the overall consumer experience of the product.

The recent inclusion of voice technology into The what3words app for Apple Watch is a prime example of streamlining the customer experience. It to locate and navigate using the W3W solution. Users are no longer required to unlock their smartphone, open the app and type their command. The use of voice introduces a streamlined approach to navigation. An equation to illustrate this is:

(Speed + accuracy) + simplicity = great customer experience

Wearables make interactions safe

There are occasions where technology on-the-go would be incredibly beneficial. However, interfacing through a smartphone can be inconvenient, dangerous or even illegal. In the car, for example, using everyday technology is all of the above (inconvenient, dangerous and for certain tasks, illegal). In situations where your concentration is paramount and requires both visual and physical focus, using technology is almost impossible. Voice-enabled wearables enable users to interact with technology in a safe way in these situations. For consumer-facing applications this might mean:

Asking Google Maps to direct you home or to use an alternative route while on a motorcycle through a voice-enabled helmet. This removes the need to wait until it was safe to pull over and take off protective gloves at the side of the road. When you’re running and want to remain in the ‘red zone’ users can simply ask wearables questions like “how far do I have to run?” or “what is my heart rate?” All this information can be synced with the biometric data received through body sensors for a full data breakdown of performance. Using The what3words app for Apple Watch, users can navigate to a precise location without a postcode or grid references.

How is the workforce leveraging wearables?

Wearables are not limited to recreational applications. Workforces are leveraging these capabilities to enhance efficiencies for professional and industrial operations. Voice-enabled wearables enable individuals to capture and receive information in a hand and eyes-free manner. Additionally, wearables provide access to information immediately and accurately, without the need for physical notetaking or reading.

Wearable technology presents some challenges

Wearable technology is not without its challenges and barriers to adoption. Small hardware products are notorious for poor battery life. The inclusion of elements like quality microphones put an additional strain of the battery. With the key benefit of a wearable being its size, it makes it difficult to add a large battery on top of existing technical functionality. The Apple Watch is a prime example of this. No matter how good the technology is, without an overnight charge it is useless.

Data privacy will also continue to be a challenge that organizations must overcome. This is especially the case as companies look to roll out sophisticated technologies that capture personal data. Biometrics, for example, offers a lot of potential for security use cases and insight into our physical state. However, it relies on trusting the organizations that capture our data to keep it secure. The acquisition of Fitbit by Google and the reaction of some Fitbit users is a reminder that consumers are savvy and data protection is a key requirement for consumers.

The future of wearables

One of the most eagerly anticipated pieces of wearable technology, even before its availability to the masses, is Apple Glasses. The Apple Glasses demonstrate Apple’s vision of a more connected and metadata rich world. The technology promises a range of elements at each person’s disposal at any one time. These innovations have wide-reaching capabilities for both consumer and business applications.

With the size and capabilities of the hardware required to deliver the same (or better) level of performance of those currently found in smartphones and connectivity speeds increasing (4G, 5G, Wi-Fi), the barriers to adoption and challenges to deliver voice-enabled wearables are eroding. This provides a huge opportunity for voice technology to be integrated into more and more wearables.

As user interfaces continue to evolve so too will the physical tools that are the norms in our lives. If the connection to the Internet is available on a pair of glasses and speech technology can be used instead of typing, where does this leave the laptop that I am currently using? Does the evolution to wearables do away with the conventions that we have become accustomed to?

Alex Fleming, Speechmatics