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From the frontlines: 3 major trends from The Alexa Conference 2019

The Alexa Conference, presented by podcast network VoiceFirst.FM, took place this January in Chattanooga, Tenn. – home of the fastest Internet in the United States, interestingly enough. The event drew more than s 500 registered attendees, nearly tripling in size from the year before, and was supported by Amazon.

Executives, marketers, developers and strategists – the four key groups of people who align to lead the effort for organizations to invest in voice-first technology – were all present across a variety of sectors, from healthcare to manufacturing to…yes, you guessed it, publishing.

Three big trends came out of The Alexa Conference that publishers of all types and sizes should be aware of:

1) Partnership over Competition

One of the aspects of the emergence of voice technology that is unique is the spirit of partnership that currently defines the landscape. Amazon and Google, both jockeying for position with their voice assistants, smart speakers and underlying AI, have yet to engage in full-on competition. Yes, there have been skirmishes, such as when Google pulled YouTube from the Echo Show and Amazon pulled Google products from its online shelves. But other than a few isolated incidents, there has been peace. That tone carried over into an event like The Alexa Conference, where, for example, Microsoft gave a presentation on how its own voice assistant, Cortana, works seamlessly with Alexa. Expect this atmosphere of partnership to continue for now.

2) The Car as the Next Frontier for Voice

Bret Kinsella, editor and publisher of Voicebot.AI, took the stage for the opening keynote at The Alexa Conference and explained, at the start, how more people use voice assistants and voice-first technology in the car than they do in the home. Currently, 77 million people use voice assistants in the car, while 45 million use voice assistants in the home, according to the recently-released In-Car Voice Assistant Consumer Adoption Report.

Amazon sold over a million preorders for its Echo Auto device, while Google Assistant is a dominant force in the American car thanks to Android Auto’s install base. Apple’s CarPlay and independent voice companies such as SoundHound (which has its Houndify assistant in a number of cars, from Mercedes to Kia to Hyundai) round out a diverse mix, as automakers figure out which partners they’re going to ally themselves with.

For publishers – whether you’re publishing audiobooks, using podcasts as marketing for existing print and digital works, or creating voice-first experiences that extend a narrative experience – you need to understand that the voice tech market in cars is growing more rapidly than in any other area. It’s worth thinking about the car, specifically, when you go to design Alexa skills, Google Home Actions, or any other voice experience.

3) Preparing for Context

The next step for voice-first technology, in general, is to become more contextual. Soon, every question you ask your Amazon Echo or Google Home will be remembered and will provide context to the voice assistant. If you asked yesterday what Stephen King’s new book is, or when you ask two weeks from now what book you should order next to read during your upcoming vacation, Alexa or Google Assistant will know you asked about Stephen King before, and use that as one of many different data points to contextually answer that question just for you. These voice assistants will begin to draw from other personal data as well – your contacts, your social media interactions, your search history, your purchasing history and more.

Yes, there’s plenty of potential for privacy violations of every imaginable sort. But there’s even greater potential for transformative experiences driven by these new, smarter computers, and their voice-first engagement with you as a user.

By Bradley Metrock

Bradley Metrock is the executive producer of The Alexa Conference. The annual event is the worldwide gathering of the Alexa development community, including executives, marketers, developers and strategists – all the roles involved in conceiving and creating great voice experiences across all industries.

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