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Voice assistant

Also called a smart personal assistant or virtual assistant, a voice assistant is a software app used to carry out tasks via voice recognition. Installed on your smartphone, it lets you use voice-based interaction instead of the tactile interface usually used to perform actions online or on your phone.

Still in their infancy just a few years ago, voice assistants are now becoming a force to be reckoned with. In 2017 there were thought to be as many as 1 billion users of voice assistants, and this figure looks set to rise thanks to improvements in voice recognition and the increase in the number of compatible apps.

What is a voice assistant?

A voice assistant utilises voice recognition technology. By identifying the verbal orders you give, the assistant can respond to them using the information on your smartphone or on the internet.

In addition to this ability to understand and synthesise information, voice assistants also use a form of artificial intelligence that allows them to save your preferences so they meet your expectations more effectively or even predict your needs and questions. By accessing your personal data (contacts, browsing history, search preferences, geolocation, etc.), the assistant can give you personalised recommendations or fine-tune its answers to your questions.

To use a voice assistant and make the most of its capabilities, you therefore need to both set up the app to recognise your voice and configure the authorisations to access your data.

Virtual assistants aren't just on smartphones either. Smart speakers and other home voice assistants are also available. Based on the same principle, they become an important part of your home to answer your questions and provide day-to-day help.

Siri, Amazon Alexa and Google Home: the main voice assistants on the market

Makers of computer operating systems are constantly vying to be the best at integrating their voice assistants into their technologies. Although Apple was a forerunner with Siri on the iPhone 4s in 2011, its rivals quickly followed suit.

Today, the number of voice assistants on the market has boomed and many brands have developed their own: Google Assistant and Google Now, Microsoft's Cortana, Apple's Siri, S Voice then Bixby developed by Samsung, Amazon Alexa from Amazon and BlackBerry's smart assistant, plus independent assistants like Vlingo and Houndify. As a result, many products look set to emerge or evolve over the coming years. Because the market is primarily English-speaking, not every new app is necessarily immediately available in French. Discover all our products

What can you ask your voice assistant?

In theory you can ask a voice assistant for any information that's on your smartphone, on the internet or in compatible apps. To activate it, you just have to say a trigger phrase out loud, such as "OK Google", "Alexa", "Hey Siri", etc., then state your request. In reality, the relevance of the answers you get depends on how advanced your voice assistant is and your ability to use keywords that the system recognises.

There is a long list of tasks that voice assistants can perform instead of users. For example, with a simple voice command you can send an email or SMS, call one of your contacts, run a search via a search engine, program a route, find an address, what's on at the cinema or tomorrow's weather, translate a phrase or convert an amount into a foreign currency when you're abroad. Just like a real-life assistant, it allows you to be more productive and perform multiple tasks, such as reading your emails, adding to your shopping list or managing your calendar even when you've got your hands full or are driving. With an indoor speaker like Google Home, you can turn on the news or music while you attend to chores around the house.

It's normal for new users to be a bit intimidated at the start. That's why most assistants let you ask "what can you do?" or "what do you know how to do?" to provide inspiration and familiarise yourself with the voice commands and applications of the tool.

Voice assistant and connected objects

From its very beginnings, computer programmers and technicians understood the potential of the smart assistant in home automation and the infinite possibilities it provided to control connected objects in the home. As a result, more and more applications are compatible and a home system like Amazon Alexa or Google Home can interact with a growing number of connected home devices to adjust smart thermostats, change the lighting in a room, switch on the TV, adjust the volume of speakers, etc. For users, it's a very easy way to control connected objects by voice.

In addition to preprogrammed tasks, you can also set up new scenarios using a piece of software like IFTTT ("if this, then that"), which can automate tasks very simply in the form of a preset scenario. This allows you to configure the interactions between your smart voice assistant, more than 600 apps and a multitude of connected objects! This app isn't currently available in France, although there's a good chance it will be soon given the rise in the number of users.

Although automating tasks via a voice assistant that responds, obeys and interacts with objects and devices in the home might seem like science fiction, this is very much the reality that each virtual assistant is bringing about for its users…

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