Is Voice UI the way to make mobile devices ‘magical’ again?

Could talking to our devices break their hold on our attention?

When the first iPhone was released it was pitched as an ‘Internet Communications Device’. A tool to allow us to communicate in in the Internet age (email, web, IM) but still fit in our pockets.

Fast forward 13 years and the modern mobile phone has become a slot machine in your pocket. We pull out our phones and pull or swipe to refresh just in case.

Don’t get me wrong, they can also be incredible tools allowing us to perform tasks that until recently would have solely been the domain of a high powered workstation. Who hasn’t used some sort of video chat on their device through the COVID-19 pandemic over the last few months? Our family is using it pretty much daily to keep in touch.

Anyway, back to distractions. If we didn’t need to look at our devices, would we no longer feel so compelled to check for new notifications? Would we be less ‘worried’ by the red dots of unread notifications in so many of our apps?

Leaning into the Voice UI capabilities of modern smart devices might be a way to start easing ourselves away from the compulsion to check for updates.

Apple has Siri, Amazon has Alexa, Samsung has Bixby, Microsoft has Cortana and Google has its assistant. Whilst none of them are perfect they’re all pretty much like science fiction compared to what existed even just a decade ago.

If you can ask your device what you want it to do without looking at the shiny screen and all the notifications maybe, just maybe, they start becoming amazing magical tools again.

I started using Siri more on my iPhone as a way to tell my wife I was on my bike heading home from the office and if I wanted to change what music I was listening to when I was running. Sure, I could just pull over and stop but given how often it’s raining or I’m wearing gloves, the desire to not have to stop and get the phone out of my pocket was pretty strong. These are pretty lightweight examples but it’s got me dipping my toes into what other voice commands I might be able to start using more.