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HiTech
14 minutes read

VUI Design: How to Leverage Voice Experiences

by Jonathan Tarud
HiTech
14 minutes read

Smartphones and tablets have revolutionized the way people communicate. They facilitate everyday processes and tasks by allowing for quick and convenient data transmission. It’s precisely this ease of use that makes these modern-day devices so popular. But as technology continues to evolve, there is a growing need for businesses to keep up and produce applications that are on par with the latest tech developments. Enter Voice User Interface (VUI)

What Is VUI?

A VUI encompasses a wide range of software solutions that allow a user to execute actions through speech commands. Since the introduction of the first Bluetooth headset in 1999, hands-free technology has continued to evolve, providing users with the ability to interact with a device or product in a faster, safer, and more accessibility friendly manner. 

Voice UI examples, such as Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa, Samsung Bixby, Google Voice Assistant, chatbots, and other voice assistants, represent the next generation of hands-free tech. These solutions make it quick and easy for users to record notes, send text messages and emails, initiate calls, perform web searches, carry out business transactions, play music, turn appliances on and off, and much more. 

In this fast-paced world, VUI offers a much-wanted chance to accomplish tasks in significantly fewer steps by simply talking to a speech user interface instead of typing out commands on a keyboard. In fact, VUI has become so popular, researchers estimate that the voice interface sector is expected to reach $24.9 billion by the year 2025. 

What Are the Features of Voice User Interface?

The main feature of VUI is the fact that it uses speech as the most important way to communicate with a device in lieu of traditional keyboard, mouse, or touchscreen operations. It is an intuitive technology with accessibility at the core of its purpose. 

Users can simply “talk” to a device to accomplish a task, usually activating the device and initiating a command by saying the “name” of the voice interface technology, like Siri or Alexa. Users can then ask the speech user interface a question, such as “What’s the current temperature outside?” or “How do I make an apple pie?”, or state their desired action, like “Set a timer for 15 minutes” or “Create a calendar entry for a doctor’s appointment at 2 pm on Friday.” Below are some of the many features of voice user interface that users can take advantage of to help facilitate their day-to-day tasks and needs: 

  • Setting alarms, reminders, and appointments
  • Recording notes
  • Creating and replying to text messages
  • Initiating a voice call
  • Performing a web search
  • Sending and reading emails
  • Playing music or videos
  • Paying bills 
  • Opening apps
  • Accessing files
  • Home automation
  • Playing games
  • Requesting real-time updates for weather, traffic, and more

Plus, voice UI is compatible with any app. If you haven’t incorporated it into your app design, it goes without saying that it’s time to consider doing so.

Incorporating a Voice-Driven Interface In Your App

Speech command technology is here to stay, so incorporating VUI elements in your app is a software design must. Whenever possible, consider incorporating a cross-platform voice assistant that will be accessible to users regardless of their device. 

Cortana, Microsoft’s VUI brainchild, is compatible with both iOS and Android and allows users to perform voice commands on their laptop or PC the same way they would on their smartphones or tablets. Cortana’s search engine of choice is Bing, which offers a different kind of experience for both iOS and Android users, which are accustomed to using Google. However, the compatibility aspect makes Cortana a great choice for any voice user interface design. 

React Native is another incredible app framework that can be used across multiple platforms, including iOS, Android, Microsoft Windows, and Web. When designing an app, you need to ensure it is versatile and will perform optimally, regardless of the user’s operating system. React Native’s ability to be incorporated seamlessly into mobile and web-based apps across all industries, including Finance, Healthcare, and others, make it one of the top frameworks for cross-platform app development, especially when creating VUI applications.

Popular Voice User Products Beyond Smartphones and Tablets

Most of us associate VUIs with iOS or Android smartphones and tablets. However, VUI is practically everywhere these days. From your TV’s remote control to the appliances you use in your kitchen to your car’s applications, VUI has taken the world by storm and is available to incorporate with a wide range of devices through Amazon, Apple, and Google software. 

Smart Home VUI Technologies

VUI makes carrying out daily household tasks easy with smart home voice interfaces. A smart home is a residence that includes a number of automated systems and IoT devices that control or monitor household ecosystems, including security, access, climate, entertainment, lighting, and several other products or appliances. Let’s take a look at some of the top household VUI technologies.

Amazon Alexa Products

Amazon offers the largest range of smart home devices that automate the ability to control items and appliances throughout a home, helping users complete chores, protect their property, or enjoy a variety of entertainment options. If you have Amazon-compatible products, these can be initiated by saying “Alexa”. Below are just a few of the many Amazon devices that have revolutionized the way people live their lives. 

Smart Speakers

Smart speakers, like the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo studio let users play music and stream songs, ask questions, get news updates, and more with the voice user interface Alexa. They even accommodate Spanish speaking users.   

Smart Displays

Smart displays, like the Echo Show, offer the ability to manage activities easily through voice user commands. Users can update calendar entries to stay on top of important appointments or reminders, learn about what’s happening in their communities or around the world, and even find recipe tutorials. 

Surveillance and Security

Gone are the days of traditional alarm systems. With Alexa-powered VUI security devices, you’ll always be in the know with the ability to monitor your home, both inside and out. Ring Video Doorbell, Ring Indoor Cam, and Ring Smart Lights are just a few of the technologies that can help you keep your home safe. You can even lock your doors with speech commands.  

Apple HomeKit  

Apple also offers a vast array of devices that simplify household tasks through Apple Homekit software. However, unlike Amazon, there are no smart home products that are unique to Apple. Instead, HomeKit works by allowing Siri voice commands to activate certain third-party products that are compatible with the HomeKit software. 

If you’re looking for voice as UI home safety devices, HomeKit is compatible with several third-party products, including August Smart Locks, Schlage deadbolts, D-Link’s Omna security camera, and more. To control lighting, HomeKit works with several smart lighting devices, such as Philips Hue, Nanoleaf, and Koogeek. For temperature control, Honeywell and Ecobee provide several types of thermostat devices that can be activated via Siri voice controls. Even sprinkler systems can be controlled with the Siri voice assistant, including Eve Aqua’s Smart Water Controller and RainMachine Pro.

Once you download and set up HomeKit, Siri will automatically recognize which items and appliances are connected and let you control them with Siri’s voice commands. 

Google Nest 

Google Nest, previously named Google Home, is another popular choice for connected home software. Like Amazon and Apple products, Google Nest provides a host of options for homeowners to control everything from security and thermostats to lighting and entertainment. The voice interface technology is powered by Google Assistant and is activated by saying “O.K. Google”, followed by the user’s question or request. It also works with Chromecast devices and apps. 

Google Nest also lets you review priority events and highlights from your devices to help you stay on top of your household actions and remind you of any appointments, tasks you have pending, or remain alert as to any suspicious activity outside your home. 

Cross-Platform Smart Home Technology 

Although there are several native VUI applications for Amazon, Apple, and Google, other devices are compatible with either all three operating systems or a combination of them. Here are a few of the most popular cross-platform voice interface technologies. 

Smart Faucets

Kohler’s Artifacts® smart faucet with voice-activated technology takes hands-free to the next level. The touchless faucet offers several functionalities, including the ability to turn the faucet on and off and pour set amounts of water. Best of all, it’s compatible with Amazon Alexa, Apple Homekit, and Google Nest. 

Thermostats

Airelec’s Muller Intuitiv with Netatmo is compatible with APPLIMO, AIRELEC, CAMPA & NOIROT electric heaters and allows both Apple and Google users to control their home temperature settings using voice controls. Since the heaters are intuitive, the tech already anticipates user preferences and helps cut energy consumption costs. 

Other VUI Smart Home Devices

VUI technology also lets you perform several other tasks around the house using voice commands. You can set alarm clocks, activate a coffee pot, raise and lower blinds, and even control smoke alarms. The possibilities are endless. 

TV Remote Controls

Whether you are using an Amazon Fire TV Stick, iTunes Remote, or a traditional cable remote, one of the most convenient features to have been added to modern-day remote controls is VUI technology. Simply press a button on your remote to search for shows or movies. Sure beats having to manually type in the title one letter at a time! 

Car VUIs

There’s no question that automobiles equipped with voice user interfaces can improve safety. By speaking a command, drivers can avoid using their smartphones and potentially avoid a crash. VUI tech for cars offers several options for drivers, including the ability to initiate phone calls, send and read text messages, obtain navigation help and turn-by-turn directions, request roadside assistance, and more. Many car VUIs are powered by BlackBerry Limited’s QNX operating system.

How to Design Voice User Interface Apps

Voice user interface design is completely different from standard app design for either smartphones or the web. The biggest difference between regular app design and VUI design lies in the fact that voice interaction design doesn’t require a visual user interface. Instead, the software should focus specifically on an audio interface (including vibration). 

Text-to-speech communication and voice commands are critical elements for a voice UI designer to implement into their apps if they want the VUI to be successfully integrated into the software. Fortunately, Machine Learning (ML) makes it easier for VUI apps to recognize tonality and, similar to web search predictions or autocorrect features on smartphones, offers suggestions to users when using voice commands to, say, compose a text message or email. That being said, voice interface design is far more complex than that. Below are some important factors to consider when creating a VUI app.

How to Activate the VUI

While it may seem obvious that a VUI is activated by speech commands, there are several ways to trigger a voice user interface to perform the intended request. Some VUI apps are activated solely by speech recognition, like Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant. However, many others are activated haptically (by pushing a button), such as a voice-activated remote control. Other VUIs are triggered by motion sensors, such as certain smart home devices that detect when a person enters or exits a room. It’s vital to choose how exactly the VUI for your app will respond to a request based on the specific device it will work with to maximize the user’s experience.  

Creating a Customer Journey Map

A customer journey map is the best way to discover the preferences of your users. It involves performing research into your target audience’s anticipated needs and tendencies in order to create a seamless and pleasant user experience when engaged with your app. Are you in the retail business? If so, then your VUI should account for different stages in the buyer cycle, such as exploration, consideration, and ultimately purchasing a product. The voice commands you incorporate into your app should take all these stages of the customer’s journey into account to make it as easy as possible to recognize and even anticipate potential user commands.

Elements to Consider and Include When Designing a VUI App 

Once you’ve decided how the VUI will be activated and have determined the customer journey map, it’s time to consider the more specific details that will comprise the functionalities of your app. Below are the most important elements to consider during the voice UI design process: 

User Intent

When incorporating speech commands into an app, a voice user interface designer must take into account the user’s intent; in other words, what the user wants to accomplish. Some requests are clearer and easier to incorporate into the VUI than others, but that doesn’t mean the more difficult ones should be ignored. For user requests that are a bit more complex, it’s important to incorporate additional questions that can help determine the exact nature of the request and ultimately fulfill the action. 

Word and Phrasing Variances

Users can request the same action in a variety of ways. For example, the user might have the intent of hearing music. They could engage with the VUI by saying “Play x song”, “Find songs by x musician”, “Shuffle playlist”, “I want to hear x songs by x artist”, and so on. As a VUI designer, it’s important to include all variations of these commands and a large library of potential keywords that take into account natural language phrases to make the interaction between the user and the software as seamless as possible. 

General vs Specific Commands 

Not everyone uses the same types of words when requesting an action from a VUI device. A voice UI designer needs to incorporate a range of dialogues and colloquialisms to take into account the variances between languages and regional dialects. Designers must also incorporate specific commands as well as general ones. A voice user interface example of a general command would be a request to schedule a reminder to check the mail. There is no date or time for this action to be completed. Conversely, a specific command would be a request to schedule a reminder to check the mail at 1 pm on Monday.

Customer Persona Preferences

A VUI device may have multiple users, which is why it is vital that a designer incorporate Machine Learning into each app so that different user personas and their individual preferences are recognized. When apps allow for various and distinguishable user profiles, and quick changes between these profiles, actions can be easily carried out to match their needs. For example, user 1 may prefer setting their home thermostat at 75 degrees while user 2 prefers a temperature of 70 degrees. These user preferences can be recorded and used to anticipate future persona behaviors and wishes.

Integrate VUI Technology Into Your App Today and Enhance Your User Experiences

VUI applications are among the most difficult to execute because they lack standard visual UI aspects. In order to make your app stand out and be compatible with multiple operating systems and devices, it is wise to consult with a knowledgeable team of voice user interface designers.

At Koombea, our team of mobile and web development experts have several years of experience incorporating the latest VUI technology into various software applications and devices. We can help bring your goals to fruition, whether you have an idea for a new app or wish to incorporate voice interface into an existing app. 

To learn more about how we can help you leverage voice experiences with your app, contact us today to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team.