What You Need to Know: Voice Apps Terminology

October 2, 2018

Voice assistant technologies such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana

The adoption of voice assistant technologies like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri and Microsoft Cortana are on the rise. And with Amazon’s recent launch of twelve new Alexa-enabled hardware products, how can brands capitalize on the exciting opportunity to engage with customers through emerging voice technologies everywhere? 

When a new industry emerges, one of the hardest things to sort out is nomenclature. Below is an excerpt from Voice Insider #4, a subscription newsletter by the creators of Voicebot.ai, that provides an excellent overview of what you need to know about voice assistant terminology.

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Evolution from Desktop and Mobile to Voice

For voice, one of the biggest issues people face is what to call the applications that run on voice assistant platforms. Desktop computing brought us “computer applications.” That term distinguished it from “computer software” which was a broader category and included operating system as well as application software. Eventually that term was shortened to “applications.” When mobile apps arrived, there was a concept that apps were like mini applications. They didn’t have the same scope and thus the idea that “apps” were simpler and as Apple would suggest, more user friendly. “Mobile apps,” eventually was shortened to “apps” in most discussions, but mobile is still used as a modifier when it helps to clarify a point.

What to Call Apps in the Voice Ecosystem

Amazon brought us the concept of an “Alexa skill.” Essentially it is an app that enables voice interaction. Skill was a conscious choice because Amazon wanted to emphasize that skills were capabilities and not just code that executed a rote task. And, it offered the opportunity to express that Alexa was learning and could accumulate more skills (capabilities) over time, not just because of the contribution of Amazon and third-party engineers, but also because AI learns and in theory becomes more knowledgeable and proficient. Microsoft jumped on the “skills” bandwagon and adopted the naming for Cortana.

Google [took a different route] by adopting the term “Actions.” If voice was solely about getting things done, then this makes sense. If we take a broad interpretation of the term, the leading voice assistant platforms all focus on intents and their fulfillment. The Action naming is about taking action to fulfill an intent. That doesn’t really give you the same idea of learning and improvement, but it has some logic behind it as you would expect from Google. Apple [also takes a different approach] by calling anything you do with Siri as supporting “intent domains.” You can’t really build apps just for Siri yet, but rather can add Siri to existing iOS apps. So, your iOS App can support “intent domains” as a feature.

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Implications for Brands Exploring Voice

In conclusion, due to the various terminology used by leading voice assistant platforms that may lead to confusion, the best fallback today is “voice apps,” the voice equivalent of “mobile apps.”

10 years ago, mobile technology advancements, marked by the introduction of the iPhone, completely changed the way that people interacted with technology. Over the next 10 years, voice will completely transform the way in which we interact with technology in the same way that mobile did 10 years earlier. Voice AI enables us to engage in conversations with the technology that surrounds us, and in doing so, will empower a whole new generation of opportunities for brands to reimagine how they engage with their customers.

PullString Converse provides a turnkey solution for creative-led teams at enterprises and digital agencies that want to rapidly design, prototype, and publish voice applications for a wide-variety of use cases. To learn more about how brands can easily create Alexa skills to improve customer engagement and loyalty, contact us to see a demo.

Written by Patrick Ku

As Head of Solutions, Patrick works with all PullString customers to make their computer conversation dreams a concrete reality. Starting as a software engineer on the PullString platform, Patrick is excited to bring technical product knowledge and apply it to specific customer needs throughout the sales and onboarding process. Before PullString, Patrick spent nine years at DreamWorks Animation as a Technical Director bridging the gap between art and technology. He earned his Computer Science degree with a 3D Animation minor from the University of Southern California.

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