It’s more than 20 years since the first text message was sent. Since then we’ve come up with a whole new way of speaking to reduce the number of characters we need to type on tiny keyboards and touchscreens.
The average person can type around 40 words per minute on a full-sized keyboard, according to Ratatype. In normal conversation we talk at between 110 and 150 words per minute, so the advantages of voice chat appear obvious.
Not needing to use your hands to send a message will mean more opportunities to remain in touch when we would otherwise be offline. The chart below from the KPCB internet trends study 2016 shows the main reasons why people will turn to voice to send messages.
Artificial intelligence will drive voice chat
Google’s announcement that it has acquired Api.ai has upped the pace in the dash to make voice-driven messaging a workable reality.
Api.ai bills itself as the leader in conversational voice interfaces. Facebook is also in the race. In 2015 it acquired Wit.ai, which has been developing a voice and natural language interface.
Talk like a person – not like a robot
And natural language is the key here. When humans talk, it’s not just the words that count. Intonation can fundamentally change meaning. Context is crucial to understanding, or misunderstanding, what we are trying to convey.
The social horrors of inaccurate auto-correct in text messaging are the stuff of a million memes. If voice is to become the trusted norm, the artificial intelligence that sits behind voice-driven messaging apps will have to learn the subtle nuances of human speech.
Internet trends forecaster Mary Meeker says voice is “the most efficient form of computing input”. She says AI tech is building capacity to ensure accurate voice messaging. “While many voice recognition tools can be frustrating to use now, when speech recognition reaches 99% accuracy, people will go from barely using the tool to using it all the time.”
The economics of grabbing an ever larger slice of the messaging market are compelling. While the broader market for apps is slowing down, instant messaging apps are still seeing strong growth.
The Economist predicts there will be 3.6 billion active users of the biggest chat apps by 2018. That’s around half of the entire human race.
Being the first to enable people to message each other using voice-driven apps, while still sounding like humans, could provide a huge competitive edge.