What Kids Tell Us about Touch and Voice

Recently, my four year-old daughter and her little bestie were fiddling with someone’s iPhone. I’m not sure which parent had sacrificed the device for our collective sanity.

Anyway, they were talking to Siri. Her bestie was putting Siri through its paces, and my daughter asked for a joke, because that’s her main question for Alexa, a.k.a. the Amazon Echo.

AmazonEcho

Siri failed at that, and my daughter remarked something like “Our Siri knows the weather too.”

Thus began an interesting comparison of what Siri and “our Siri” i.e. the Echo can do, a pretty typical four year-old topping contest. You know, mine’s better, no mine is, and so forth.

After resolving that argument, I thought about how natural it was for them to talk to devices, something that I’ve never really liked to do, although I do find talking to Alexa more natural than talking to Google Now or Siri.

I’m reminded of a post, which I cannot find, Paul (@ppedrazzi) wrote many years ago about how easily a young child, possibly one of his daughters, picked up and used an iPhone. This was in 2008 or 2009, early days for the iPhone, and the child was probably two, maybe three, years old. Wish I could find that post.

From what I recall, Paul mused on how natural touch was as an input mechanism for humans, as displayed by how a child could easily pick up and use an iPhone. I’ve seen the same with my daughter, who has been using iOS on one device or another since she was much younger.

I’m observing that speech as equally natural to her.

Kids provide great anecdotal research for me because they’re not biased by what they already know about technology.

When I use something like gesture or voice control, I can’t help but compare it to what I know already, i.e. keyboard, mouse, which colors my impressions.

Watching kids use touch and voice input, the interactions seem very natural.

This is obvious stuff that’s been known forever, but it took how long for someone, Apple, to get touch right? Voice is in an earlier phase, advancing, but not completely natural.

One point Noel (@noelportugal) makes about about voice input is that having a wake word is awkward, i.e. “Alexa” or “OK Google,” but given privacy concerns, this is the best solution for the moment. Noel wants to customize that wake word, but that’s only incrementally better.

When commanding the Amazon Echo, it’s not very natural to say “Alexa” and pause to ensure she’s listening. My daughter tends to blurt out a full sentence without the pause, “Alexa tell us a joke” which sometimes works.

That pause creates awkward usability, at least I think it does.

Since its release, Noel has led the charge for Amazon Echo research, testing and hacking (lots of hacking) on our team, and we’ve got some pretty cool projects brewing to test our theories. I’ve been using it around my home for a while, and I’m liking it a lot, especially the regular updates Amazon pushes to enhance it, e.g. IFTTT integration, smart home controlGoogle Calendar integration, reordering items from Amazon and a lot more.

Amazon is expanding its voice investment too, providing Alexa as a service, VaaS or AVS as they call it.

I fully believe the not-so-distant future will feature touch and speech, and maybe gestures, at the glance and scan layers of interaction, with the old school keyboard and mouse for heavy duty commit interactions.

Quick review, glance, scan, commit is our strategic design philosophy. Check out Ultan (@ultan) explaining it if you need a refresher.

So, what do you think? Thank you Captain Obvious, or pump the brakes Jake?

Find the comments.

AboutJake

a.k.a.:jkuramot

2 comments

  1. At a 6th grader birthday party Alexa failed miserably to Siri by not having a smart answer to “what is zero divided by zero” question. Still, my kids find Alexa to be a useful speaker that just needs to learn about life. They treat her as a puppy. I wish she grows into Google Voice or SoundHound one day. We also find ourselves calling for Alexa in a car, out of habit.

  2. @Julia: The Echo is definitely a work in progress, but the progress is moving quickly. It had about half the capabilities when Noel first showed me his in late 2014.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *