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What Apple’s Wider Embrace Of Voice Search Means For Local Business

Incremental changes are coming to Apple devices with the ‘Sierra’ update — but some of the additions could mean big things for app developers catering to online-to-offline marketers.

Apple’s preview last week of its latest version of macOS — dubbed Sierra — included a raft of interesting, if not groundbreaking, feature updates.

Still, it’s worth noting that not many observers grasped the significance of iBeacon when that was introduced with iOS 7 three years ago. With that in mind, the big news for online-to-offline marketers looking to connect with local consumers is the expansion of iPhone and iPad voice-activated assistant Siri to desktop.

And there’s something even more pivotal than that: Siri’s software is becoming available widely to developers.

That means that users of apps like Uber will be able to hail a car just by asking their iPhone or Apple Watch.

“It’s still early – for now, Apple is only making expanded Siri capabilities available for a few app categories,” says Jon Kennell, Yext’s VP of Product (Full disclosure: Yext is GeoMarketing’s parent company. More on that relationship here.) “But there is a growing trend in digital assistants, and voice is a big part of that.”

Expanding voice interfaces for a range of apps has particular potential for connecting with people driving cars, especially as Internet of Things technology is expected to be an increasingly integral part of the next wave of automotives.

In general, voice search is seen as one of the “next big things” outlined by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers venture capital analyst Mary Meeker in her most recent industry trends report.

“If you’ve looked at Mary Meeker’s previous presentations, she always points out how much time is not being utilized with respect to [digital technology] in cars,” Kennell says. “So there is a huge captive audience just waiting for voice interfaces.   What’s different about these interfaces is they are inherently transactional. It’s question-and-answer. There’s very little search and discovery; and there’s no browsing.”

Local Voice

The emergence of voice-based digital assistants will have a large impact on how local businesses get found. This past spring, a study from Bing Ads found that nearly 50 percent of all mobile voice searches are tied to local places.

“Imagine if someone tells Siri, ‘Siri, make a reservation at one of my favorite restaurants that’s good for kids at 8 O’clock’ and the app instantly arranges a reservation. That is a great possible use case,” Kennell says. “Digital assistants will be much more powerful, rely on more structured data, and allow consumers to complete tasks without going to another site or app. With SiriKit and Maps Extensions, Apple is opening the doors for marketers to make their own transactions available on these platforms.”

voice activatedVoice Search Gets Louder

Voice-activated search has come a long way in a short time.

A June 2015 survey from 451 Research found that just 13 percent of U.S. smartphone users access their voice-controlled personal assistant on a daily basis, 14 percent use them weekly, and 10 percent employ that feature monthly. In aggregate, that’s 37 percent of mobile phone owners who regularly use a personal digital assistant — sizable, but hardly decisive.

Part of the reason for the relatively low amount of voice-controlled personal assistant use is that — hard as it may be to believe by professionals immersed in the latest mobile tech — is that not everyone has a smartphone. Yet.

“eMarketer estimates that in 2016 there will be 177.8 million mobile phone search users in the US,” the report says. “At the end of the forecasting period, there will be 221.0 million. And as mobile devices become more sophisticated, and offer options like voice-controlled personal assistants, more of those searchers may be inclined to try them out.”

The role of voice-directed digital personal assistants on smartphones and in the connected home aren’t a regular feature that consumers use at this point. But as eMarketer contends, that’s going to change rapidly as Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, and the various ones offered on Google’s Android become “smarter,” they’ll also become more prominent in how consumers interact with their devices.

And that’s where voice search embedded in popular apps are likely to have bigger implications for local businesses who rely on responding to “near me” searches that consumers seek to satisfy those “micro-moments.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of GeoMarketing.com. A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.