Archive for April, 2010

Voice Interaction: The Next User Interface?

April 29, 2010

Let’s start with the obvious; voice interaction – despite recent developments discussed below – is nothing new. It could, however, be the next user interface.

Software that can convert spoken words into written text has been available since the early 1980s, with modern commercially available systems claiming accuracy upwards of 98% (see further reading, below). Such results are not bad, but not great either.

In almost 30 years of use and refined development, speech recognition still can’t match the recognition levels of human beings. For the most part, such issues mean most people are still confined to the traditional input methods of keyboard and mouse.

But lurking on the horizon is another upheaval and a potential boon for speech recognition. Google’s recently announced Nexus One handset includes voice recognition technology that allows the individual to control the device (see further reading).

The intuitive system – which learns in relation to individual queries – allows the user to interact with a range of services, from composing an electronic mail in Gmail to visiting the world’s site via Google Maps.

The search giant isn’t alone in developing more intuitive voice services. Microsoft’s Windows operating system uses voice control technology to help the user control Vista. The technology has been refined further in the recently released Windows 7 platform.

Such developments, however, have not been without issues. A famously unsuccessful demonstration of Vista voice recognition software in 2006 led to a simple note of “Dear Mom” being translated as “Dear Aunt, let’s set so double the killer delete select all” (see further reading).

Reuters reported that Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer blamed the failed speech recognition product demonstration on “a little bit of echo” in the room, which confused the speech-to-text system.

For users of voice technology, such confusion has been a common concern. But do the refinements in Windows 7, and the progress made by Google, show that we are actually getting to a point where voice recognition is usable?

Voice controlled car stereo systems – which have often suffered due to background noise – are now viewed as increasingly reliable. And early feedback from Nexus One users suggests the voice recognition technology is “amazing” (see further reading).

After three decades, then, we might finally have reached the tipping point for voice control. But as the speech interface becomes commonplace, one final word of warning: be careful where you talk.

Straining ears could pick up confidential information from spoken dictation. Worse still, confused members of the public might question your sanity! So, be careful as you embark on the road to a spoken revolution.

Further reading


User Experience Platforms (UXP)

April 22, 2010

The customer is definitely king. In this age of interactivity and engagement, businesses must work hard to ensure the demands of their clients’ – both internal and external – are met.

More providers and blue-chip businesses are therefore paying more attention to the user experience platform (UXP), a method for providing an open and intuitive access to information that puts the client first. Such a focus is more than overdue.

Analysts and the media have been expecting developments related to the UXP for a number of years. Back in 2005, an article in CIO magazine (see further reading, below) referred to the “Google Effect” – where web-based employees demand simple, satisfying and intuitive access to information.

Researcher IDC was already coining the phrase “user experience platform”, a fast-emerging area of development that aimed to improve the lives of information workers through the integration of existing intranets and transactional applications.

Back in 2010 and the reality hasn’t been quite as fast-emerging as might have been expected. Try a web search for “user experience platforms” and you’ll quickly see that the area is not that clearly defined.

While other buzz phrases – such as cloud computing and Web 2.0 – have an equally contested nature, they do at least garner a strong element of provider, media and end-user interest. Expect the pendulum to swing towards UXP in 2010.

Smart phones – the basic building blocks for the mobile UXP – currently account for 14% of overall mobile device sales, but Gartner expects they will make up around 37% of global handset sales by 2012.

Such growth means more providers will aim to enter the market to provide intuitive devices. For new entrants, Gartner suggests brand and user experience will be significant differentiators for mobile handsets.

Technology specialists are already beginning to take note and some are prioritising the phrase “user experience platform” in their information. Take Sony Ericsson, who recently announced that their forthcoming Xperia X10 handset has a new UXP that will provide an “open, human and intuitive experience”.

The Sony handset – like many others – is based on the Linux-based Google Android operating system. The platform promotes the open development of user-centred applications and Android will account for 14.5% of the worldwide smartphone market by year-end 2012.

The pendulum is already swinging towards open, intuitive access to mobile applications. Take steps to satisfy your users demands now and prioritise the UXP.

Further reading


Single User Experience

April 12, 2010

You’ve decoupled your enterprise architecture and implemented a service-oriented approach that makes use of business process management and single sign-on. So, now what?

Your using rich internet applications and making use of Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies. So what now?

Leading companies have already begun work on developing “Single User Experience’s (SUE)”. SUE takes the approach that the application is specific to an individual users specific needs, and not an all purpose applications used by many different users for slightly different purposes.

For example, take the word processor: with it you can create documents, letters, fax sheets, memo’s and various other formats of what are essentially documents. However a word processor presents the same options and user interface irrespective of what type of document you create.

It’s no wonder that research has identified that most people only use less than 20% of a word processor capability and virgin users face a steep learning curve.

In the context of SUE a word processor would change it’s menu’s, icons and actions specific to the type of document you are working with or to the type of documents you work within a single context (at home you mainly use one for letters, whereas work mainly for structured documents).

Thus access and ease of use of the tool becomes greatly honed and much more efficient as you do not have to plough through hundreds of irrelevant options.

The concept of SUE can take in many factors to create a more efficient and dynamic interface e.g.:

  • Role: The purpose of your use of the application e.g. Secretary, Author, Researcher, Student
  • Context: The purpose of your use of the tool customer enquiry, sell to a prospect, or provide information to a collegue
  • Channel: The device the application is being accessed from e.g. mobile, PC, Kiosk, Call Centre
  • Location: Where the application is being used from e.g. Home, Office, In-transit (car, plane, train)
  • Locale: Country from which the application is being accessed

In short, give your technology a persona. Once workers have a single user experience, your business and your customers will quickly feel the benefits.


Multi-Interaction Interfaces

April 7, 2010

What’s your favourite interface for communication? Maybe it’s speech, gesture, or touch, or maybe – when you’re working online – it’s the humble keyboard?

 If it’s the latter interface, you’re not alone – most people still choose to communicate with a system through the traditional input means of keyboard and mouse. But modes of interaction are changing.

 The reasons for such change are twofold. First, alternative forms of communication – such as speech, pen and body movements – are becoming viable methods for controlling devices. Second, the up-and-coming cadre of online youngsters demand multiple modes of interaction.

 Such multiplicity might seem strange to Generation X – usually people born between 1960 and 1980 – who spend most of their time communicating through email, phone or SMS text messaging.

 When they’re using one particular platform, individuals from Generation X don’t like to be interrupted by a message on another system; such multiplicity creates a sense of panic rather than satisfaction. The opposite is true for Generation Y.

 New millennials are used to working with a range of interfaces at the same time. While logged on to Facebook, youngsters will be undertaking simultaneous conversations through instant messaging (IM) and video communication through Skype.

 But what do such changes mean for business? More than just logging on through the keyboard, Generation Y individuals are looking to maintain multiple sessions with companies on a range of platforms.

 A consumer applying for car insurance through one particular portal will be contrasting quotes through a comparison site, talking to a call centre agent through a head set and analysing the opinions of friends through IM.

 Businesses need to be ready to offer their customers multiple means for interaction. More to the point, they also need to monitor a range of collaboration channels – because that is what their Generation Y clients will be doing.

 The fast-changing nature of technology means the modes for interaction will only continue to evolve. Research on human-computer interaction means individuals will be able to input information through diverse formats, increasing usability and access to digital media.

 Such change all means your business will need to be ready for a new era of multi-interaction interfaces. Because if you’re not ready, your new customers certainly will be.