VR tech progress
There have been significant leaps in voice recognition (VR) technology in recent years. It is now claimed that the more advanced systems can interpret 94% of human communication even allowing for accents, inflections and other peculiarities. This is a massive step and has enabled products such as Amazon’s Alexa to become popular (and effective) as a conduit to VR technology. The advance is likely to drive the move to further integration of VR into ecommerce and other areas of user experience in online activity. A huge number of people are carrying a microphone with a powerful computer attached so the enabling technology is already there.
Once people have started to adopt and use the technology they will expect it to become sophisticated and effective within a fairly short space of time. They will also have high expectations of what it can do and deliver. If your version continually asks for repetition of requests or fails to understand, continually asking for clarification, users will pretty soon start switching off (or worse, switching to a competitor).
So, what do designers need to think about when they are using VR technology? A number of factors come into play that aren’t present when designing on the page. For example, there are no visual cues to help users if things start going pear-shaped and they can’t get what they are looking for. The VR device has to be able to interpret the context and intent of the request from words alone. This provides a challenge in programming the variety and range of shapes a particular request might take.
Then there are issues such as tone and personality. Nobody really wants to talk to an expressionless, impersonal robot so you have to decide what kind of voice you are going to use. The type and style of personality you are going to give your VR assistant in terms of the tone and framing of responses is also vital. These aspects can also play into your brand personality and values so you need to think about what elements of your image you wish to project.
Accessibility vs. privacy
Two potentially conflicting aspects of the new technology are accessibility and privacy. The advent of voice recognition opens up a whole new avenue of possible access for those with physical disabilities, Designing to accommodate and even take advantage of this will be a major challenge. Perhaps more importantly though VR provides a possible environment for privacy and security concerns to become very high-profile. The possibility of systems storing and monitoring information and the potential for impersonation or even accidental triggering of expenditure bring new risks. Designing to exploit the benefits of VR while avoiding the pitfalls will probably be the great challenge of the next phase of online technology development.