Disclaimer to those stuck in the 90s: This article isn’t about PDAs / handheld PCs. Sorry not sorry.
For any significant upgrade in hardware technology to be truly successful, software must advance proportionately. We were shown the consequences of inconsistent growth between the two in the early days of the smartwatch (which was just a few years back – they grow up so fast).
Mobile went through similar growing pains. It was amazing how fast we went from clunky portable telephones to incredibly smart computing capabilities in a body that would make Kate Upton jealous. But while phones didn’t come with actual keyboards (thankfully), the keyboards they did come with just weren’t good enough.
Then the software began to catch up. One thing led to another and Siri was born, along with a few siblings; Cortana, Google Now, and the rest.
Mobile Man Friday
The digital assistant is slowly but surely transitioning from being a novelty feature to a key strategic element of the mobile experience. Their importance can’t be overstated, especially considering that now more internet searches are coming from mobile browsers than from desktops.
Navigating mobile devices wasn’t always easy, or at least as bearable as it is now. One very smart dude at Microsoft created the now much maligned autocorrect, without which typing on a phone would be a nightmare for many. Soon, some other smart folks at big corporations realized that navigating phones, like navigating almost anything else, would be much easier through voice commands. Now virtual assistants are everywhere.
Earlier this year, Microsoft showed how they intend for users to fall back on Cortana across applications, not just when they have a question to ask. Apple, who was among the earliest on the scene, now offers Siri even on Apple TV. The ubiquity of voice-controlled navigation means that soon, browser search bars may take a back seat to voice searches.
Changing Paradigms in Search
Given that conventional browsing may be rendered old hat by digital assistants, a similar fate will likely come to conventional website optimization techniques.
Currently, marketers get their websites to rank on the first few pages of Google by optimizing content for keywords. But with queries being carried out by virtual assistants, search will change. Instead of typing “Nike shoes” into a search bar and then narrowing down our query on an e-commerce website, more people will be saying “Where can I buy Nikes shoes?” and probably getting a ‘Buy’ button built straight into the search result. In order to do this, developers will focus on making software better at natural language processing, rather than depending on metadata tallied against search terms.
These developments are sure to give search engine optimization experts sleepless nights. Smartphone users in general, though, should be excited.
Making Sense of Blah Blah Blah
At Google I/O 2013, Amit Singhal made a presentation on the future of search. In it, he highlighted Google’s knowledge base known as the Knowledge Graph. The program is meant to enhance Google search, and does this by collating all the information it has gathered from its semantic search data.
Semantic search was how Google made its search results more driven by context, as opposed to taking queries at face value. It accounts for the intent of the search and not just the meaning of the words that form it. With Knowledge Graph, semantic search will make way for conversational search. With Google making large strides towards a keyword-less interface between users and digital assistants, so will Apple, Facebook and the others.
Thanks to the evolution of virtual assistants, and the intelligence behind them, we will be able to more freely talk to our devices in order to carry out every little thing from web searches to local file updates. Besides this, voice-controlled navigation will also become heavily context driven, more so than semantic search.
That is to say, your phone will be able to differentiate between the movie buff looking to watch Fight Club and the reader looking to by the book online, even if the search terms are the same.
Our phones are turing into less water-proof versions of TARS from Interstellar. They’ve already got comparable amounts of intelligence and snark. So next time you’re feeling bummed out because nobody understands you, take comfort in the fact that soon enough, your phone will.
Feature image courtesy of Tested.com