As Google pushes to make voice searches more ubiquitous with Google Assistant, there are still challenges with voice that the search giant has yet to address, including monetization, growth through sales of hardware and privacy concerns. Voice is an area of particular importance for Google as it tries to position its search engine in the context of hands-free and screen-free situations. With a late entry into hardware, however, Google still trails its major competitors when it comes to voice. While Google Assistant was initially limited to Google's own Pixel phones, Apple had sold a billion iPhones, giving Siri an adoption advantage, and Amazon's Alexa enjoyed an early lead given that the Amazon Echo hardware products came out before Google Home.
For Google to be successful in voice, Recode argued, it has to rethink how its ad business will work in an era of voice searches and how it will organize and deliver search results when there isn't a display in sight. The company hasn't shared its plans for monetizing voice searches, with CEO Sundar Pichai stating that it's still early days for voice. When you ask Google Home a question, for example, the result you hear is what Google thinks is the best answer, not what a marketer has paid to be at the top of the list, like ads on web searches. Google may alienate users if it tries to return voice search queries with a paid advertisement. When users asked Google Home about their schedules, and the device returned that query along with a message that Disney's Beauty and the Beast was also premiering on that date, users became uneasy. At this time, one reasonable monetization strategy would be through e-commerce, but Google trails competitor Amazon in this space.
Another problem with voice is the accuracy of search results. On the web, when a search is returned by Google, you can scan through the results and choose from a number of reputable sites to get the best answer. However, things are different with voice, as Google Home users found in March when they asked if President Obama was planning a coup. Google Home responded with an affirmative, using a result from a false site. Since then, Google has amended the search result. And when Google Home is shared between different users and different accounts, a challenge that AI will have to contend with is privacy, and how to isolate the search history between user accounts. Yet, even if Google can address these logistical challenges, voice can fail for users if the experience proves to be frustrating. With typed searches on the web, it's easy to amend a search if the results don't meet our expectations, but users are less likely to take on an iterative approach to get the voice results they want, UC Berkeley computer science professor told Recode. Voice tools today also have a difficulty understanding accents, and Google said that is working on this, which can help alleviate frustration.
A key area for success with voice is having the hardware to run Google's AI search. Rival Amazon has an early lead in the home space, with Strategy Analytics estimating that some 6.3 million Amazon Echo and Dot units have been sold. By summer, Google is estimated to sell a million Google Home, a direct competitor to Amazon's Echo. In the fourth quarter, it is estimated that three to five million Google Pixel phones were sold, giving Google Assistant even broader reach. Even as it arrives late to the game, Google Assistant is already on a variety of hardware, giving users options on how to search with their voice. You can find Google Assistant on Android smartphones, including the Google Pixel, on the wrist through Android Wear smartwatches, in the home on Google Home and in the car on Android Auto.