Welcome to the age of Voice

the age of voice

And now we enter the age of VOICE.

Voice as content has been the poor cousin of written content for at least ten years.

But the switchback is coming.  And pulling the strings again, is the late Steve Jobs.

Take a moment, if you would, to consider how technology has evolved to exploit the written word and the spoken word ever since man first started grunting at dinosaurs.

In both cases the evolution started slow… and continued slow.Until the last few years.

Because over the last 15 years the number of clever things that can be done with the written word has exploded. The same has not been true of voice. Until now.

A couple of stories illustrate the tale:


1. The definitive story of technology and the written word.

Hieroglyphs were etched out by Ancient Egyptians some 3,000 years BC. The Dead Sea Scrolls were written by hand on papyrus about 100 years BC.

The Gutenberg printing press in 1439AD, enabled volume printing and this democratised the ownership of knowledge and education.

In the 1960s Xerox started selling photocopiers which enabled words to be mass printed by individuals and, alas, leaflets to be handed out on the student union steps.

The personal PC required billions of dollars to be spent by consumer and businesses on one of most profitable software packages in the world, Microsoft Office;  entirely based on the written form.

But it was the Internet and more importantly “the cloud” that gave wings to the Written Word.

Ever since the cloud become a part of our everyday speech, technology and the written word have evolved hand in hand at lightning speed. The result is txt spk, twit-speak, email, blogs, comments, likes, wikipedia, the erosion of privacy, the rise of over-sharing and online-search-for-anything.

Only one rule applies.You need a keypad. So long as you’re connected and have a keypad you can perform a key word search on    emails, blogs, word documents or trawl the world wide web. All in an instant.

That’s the written word: Stored, searchable and shareable for ever

Now let’s pause, exhale, stretch our legs and look back over our shoulders at the tranquil, slow moving caravan of the spoken word.











2. The definitive story of technology and the spoken word.

The technology of the spoken word begins with the ear horn which, let’s guess must have been invented 5,000 years ago, when ancient-ancients chit-chatting by the Nile would roll up a spare piece of papyrus and stick it in their lughole to better hear the latest news from Petra.

And for several millennia, that’s it; No more development.


Finally, at long last,  in 1876 after a helluva wait the telephone was invented.

And for another hundred years voice technology barely changed. Then twenty five years ago the mobile phone landed on the planet with a weighty car battery attached and mighty 2kg thud whenever someone put it on the table.

And while the cloud was exploited by VOIP solutions like Skype nothing interesting happened to voice. Unlike the written word nothing new is being done with the spoken word. New technologies have still focused on me speaking to you and you listening to me (or not). And vice versa.

This is not to say that no-one has tried to develop voice-oriented technology but the response of the market has always been to say “meh!” and turn back to its twitter stream.

There’s no better illustration of the unadventurousness of voice technology than that the world fell in love with the iPhone despite the fact that it delivered a pretty average phone call experience.

It was everything it could do OTHER THAN make phone calls that excited people. Even more telling, the iPhone 4 couldn’t even make phone calls if you didn’t hold it the way that Steve Jobs told you to..but nobody really cared. Phone calls… voice…meh.

Which brings us up to date.


But there’s one more thing (as someone once said).

Over the last couple of years a lot of smart folk and smart money has started to flow into voice-based technology. Companies such as Twillio and Call Trunk* have been developing technology that will release the enormous inherent value  in spoken agreements, promises, directions, phone numbers, instructions, tone of voice, spelling, date and time, bed time stories, meeting arrangements, etc.

So what’s different now, you may ask.

It’s about perfect timing:

  • The cloud is a trusted and understood resource,
  • Developments in telephony technology enable much more to be done with voice and phone calls than previously,
  • Disruptive business models can be created as a result
  • And we,  consumers, are ready to accept that voice can do more.

But what really tells you that NOW is the moment for voice technology is that Apple has decided that now is the moment to start cheerleading the team.

At the heart of the new shiny iPhone 4s is the repackaging of Siri – a voice-technology that will allow iPhone users to speak into their phone to make phone calls, schedule appointments, write notes and so on.

The reaction of many – ironically – is “I wouldn’t want to speak into my phone”.

But Apple is betting that the technology is now good enough that you, that we, will change our minds; That we will find voice a more useful content stream than we thought; That voice contains more value than we realised. And voice is where the action is.

Apple tends to get its timing right. Indeed it is respected less as an inventor of technology than as a company that knows when and how to package new technology and present it to the market. It has judged that the time is right.

It’s betting that we’ll soon be recording everything we say – making things happen through the power of the speech, and becoming more efficient and happier without, literally without, lifting a finger.

Would you bet against it?

Word up.


*Disclosure – I do some work for Call Trunk