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Are “Voice Remotes” Here to Stay?

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Over the past several weeks, several high-profile streaming boxes have been announced that feature a remote control supporting voice input. First, Amazon introduced the new Fire TV, featuring the “Alexa” voice remote remote control that enables speech-activated Fire TV navigation or searches. Next, the newest Apple TV was introduced, featuring Siri-based voice interaction, an alternative to pressing buttons on the remote device. Are these simply the latest fad, destined to find their way into the same drawer that also contains those last-generation 3D glasses and Wii motion-based controller? Or, have we finally arrived at a solution to the age-old user interface challenge – a small, simple human input device that handles all user interaction across your entire home media system?

One potential advantage of a voice remote is that it can work well in a darkened room (assuming you can find the remote itself). Of course, that assumption requires that you know what to say once you pick it up. It's not entirely clear that grandma, or the kiddos (and their baby sitter) will fare so well without some preliminary training. It just might be a good idea to keep a full-function traditional remote handy.

However, once adapted to having a voice remote, the family should find it preferable to pressing buttons. Or will they?  Microsoft invested millions in developing the Xbox Kinect controller, strongly promoting it as heir apparent in the family room. Naturally, we bought one for our family, especially for our teenage kids and their friends, but it wasn't the hit we expected. The motion-tracking feature was fun at first, until everyone got tired of waving their arms around to initiate every screen action. The voice feature never really took off either, owing to the obvious fact that the user's voice was across the room, and competing with all that multimedia audio filling the room. So it is little surprise that, at the recent E3 event in June, Microsoft had to state that Kinect wasn't really dead, which I think pretty much says it all, along with their changed strategy to decouple Kinect from the Xbox One.

Picking up the remote and speaking directly into the mic will reduce background noise and improve accuracy. Yet it isn't clear that many couch potatoes want to be that interactive, or may just feel silly speaking to their equipment. I suspect techno-geeks will welcome the chance to show off their new toy for all their friends, at least until the novelty wears off.

The larger problem for these voice remotes is that it only works for that one single device, while all the other equipment still requires picking up traditional remotes. This creates “behavioral dissonance” in the user experience that takes away some of the benefit. It has the potential to frustrate the consumer as they must mentally switch between one (or more) voice protocols and pressing buttons. Equally frustrating is the fact that it is still “Yet Another Remote” added to the mix.

It would be lovely if this idea of voice input could be consistently applied for all your equipment, wouldn't it?  One approach would be a programmable “universal voice remote” that could then control all of your devices. However, I see a more likely scenario with an existing device that already has voice input: your smart phone. It already contains the mic and voice recognition technology, it just needs a lot of innovation so that the mobile app could work across all equipment.

We would like to solicit your feedback on voice remotes to info@modulusmediasystems.com or info@getmodulus.com. Let us know what you think and what you would like to see in the (near) future.

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