The DOS Era of Virtual Assistants

Not a week goes by where some industry-related conversation I have with a major tech company does not include virtual assistants. When talking about these assistants like Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, and Cortana, I often have to remind folks that we are still in the very early days. One of the ways I’ve started doing that is to talk about these assistants as if we are in the DOS era of computer interfaces.

For many of you, this image brings back memories. This was the command line era of computer interfaces. A time when you had to know exactly what to type to interface with the computer and get what you want. It was entirely unintuitive and highly programmatic. This is where we are with virtual assistants today. While it is true the speech interface is vastly more intuitive than the command line interface; you still have to speak to all the current assistants in a certain way. These assistants are still limited in what they can understand in a similar way DOS limited our input options to a set list of commands. When the graphical interface came along, it opened the door for more people to be able to intuitively use a computer. While there was still some training necessary, it was a huge leap forward from DOS when it came to computer interfaces.

While voice interfaces are still met with some speculation when it comes to computer interfaces, I believe when we truly get to a conversational interface it will be more of a leap than DOS to Windows in human to computer interaction.

Voice May Take Computer Interfaces Farther Than Touch
I’ve been a strong advocate of touch computing interfaces. My position all along has been that touch interfaces like that on smartphones and tablets are more intuitive and natural to use than the mouse and keyboard interfaces. In the early days of tablets, many would comment on how their pre-school age kids would naturally pick up and iPad and instinctively be able to start using it. I had commonly used the phrase the end of computer literacy classes because touch interfaces are so easy to use we don’t need to be taught how to use them like we did mouse and keyboard computers.

While I still think screen and visual based computers will still play a key role in the future, I also believe the combination of the voice-based interface will take computing even farther, and make computers, even more, easier to use than touch computing.

Even just looking at voice speakers like Amazon’s Alexa, we hear countless stories of parents talking about how their kids are using Alexa and beginning to rely on Amazon’s assistant for common workflows, like setting alarms, asking for the weather, getting information, etc. The parallels between stories hearing how kids, elderly, or people who are not tech savvy have been taking to touch and voice interfaces is a clear example of the potential of this technology to help consumers do more with computers.

That is the ultimate goal, help consumers do more, be more productive, and stop wasting time with the frustrating, and difficult parts of operating a computer. The reality, however, is we still have a long way to go. To use my analogy, we are still in the command line interface stage of voice assistants. This is why seeing how Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple make strides year over year to make their assistants more conversational and thus eliminate all limitations to interact with these voice assistants is paramount to their futures.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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