BLOG published on 16 Oct 2018 • Department / Unit Digital Media Media

Alexa, set timer for zero minutes - it´s time to go to work!

Tomas Granryd

In the first of a new series of personal blogs from our Members on digital transformation, Swedish Radio's Tomas Granryd, Chairman of the EBU's VOX Group, looks at voice controlled devices and how public service media needs to lead the way in developing practical and valuable uses for them.

The last couple of years I´ve had this weird mixed feeling that the world around us is changing extremely fast, but the innovation pace is super slow if you zoom in. It´s like nothing really groundbreaking ever happens. The irritating feeling that you already know what you want to see being developed and that you have to wait a few years more to see it become real. I mean – you still hunt for WIFI, you still have an account-chaos with one million passwords, storage is still an issue, you are still being shut down when updating a computer, bluetooth is still used as a standard (!), battery time is still a question for a developers conference and Skype is still unbelievably insanely hard to understand. Sure, thing move on, but it is a feeling that it is iteration of previous stuff.

And sure -sometime you see really giant leaps, like an iPay, or a Spotify, a Chromecast or on a smaller scale- a Shazam, but they are rare in the big picture.

So wouldn´t it be great to have something really mind blowing?

I think the area of voice is most certainly one of those mind blasting giant leaps. And the really cool thing is that it is almost impossible to predict how this will develop.

I still remember the truly awesome feeling for the first time being able to control my sound system at home with merely with my voice. A feeling of a natural, more human friendly interface that will shift the whole eco-system for us as a radio company, a feeling that you could access the net, as well as hardware in a completely new way. Awesome!

In Sweden vox devices have been available for sale for about a year in certain web-shops and Swedish Radio (SR) have done great experiments building apps and skills for them, but they have only been able to speak English – a situation that is really not optimal for a Swedish radio company.

Good luck trying to make Alexa play the show “P3 Älskar”. You will probably be served a playlist from Spotify called El´s Cow. If you are lucky it will suggest Doctor P3 (DR P3)!

But this is about to change – one month ago Google Assistant was released in Swedish, and Google Home will follow later this year. So with this development, we see this as a starting point for us to really focus!

Swedish Radio is trying to develop in three different areas for the voice area: Available, Augmented and Adapted. (Three A´s – neat!)

The first area – Available – is of course the obvious one – everything that we produce should easily be available on the assistants. We need an easy, human centered user design experience and a forgiving search. This is hard. But it's the absolute minimum PSM should do to provide this as a service.

We've released an app for Google Assistant – It’s a great start but a long way from perfect. Many of the problems involve things that we can´t control.

One obstacle for instance is that you can´t “open” another action while you are listening to our app – for example you can´t set a timer or increase the volume while listening to an app, unless you exit the app. Major flaw. But we know that Google are looking at this.

The second are is what I call Agumented – how to build an experience around the stream?

You hear a great song on the radio – and you have the ability save it to Spotify with just a word. Or you hear a promo for another show while listening to a live stream. You ask the VA (voice assistant) to start that show instead with just a word, pausing the first offer.

Here's an area that really can give the audience an added value. This is where we start doing something surprising instead of the obvious.

But the most exciting area is Adapted content. What type of content could we produce that is specifically adapted to the VA? Content that uses all the strengths that an interactive, human centered, hands free interaction can give.

This is a big challenge and where we should bring our smartest innovative minds together to start experiment.

If we succeed in these three areas, I´m certain that we won´t just be followers but actually set the trends for what a voice experience should be like.

We know that it is coming, we even know when, so no one can say it comes as a surprise. To be brutal, we could probably agree on that if we are not, within a five years, one of the leading providers of entertainment, news and culture in this device, we have all done a really bad job!

So it´s time to start creating!