Dial Up to Voice

Written by: on January 8, 2020

From Dial-Up to Voice: What the past tells us about the future

I often find myself thinking about the past and what technologies were new or up and coming but seemed so out of place at the time. In reality, those processes were revolutionary but we didn’t quite know it yet. The printing press, physical disks, and dial-up were all world-changing technologies that helped move people and information forward. Now, however, they seem wildly inefficient and slow compared to our modern methods (like interacting with voice assistants). With the rise of e-readers, books don’t even require printing or paper, physical disks have been replaced by cloud storage, and dial-up has been overtaken by the connected and always improving mobile service. It’s hard to imagine that we could improve upon these technologies, but history shows that we will.

When I think about everyday tasks that we may find ridiculous and cumbersome 10 years down the road, I often think about typing. I imagine children learning from their holographic teachers about how their grandparents had to push each individual letter to do most tasks, look up information, and communicate. I imagine those children gawking at the inefficiency of those methods. 

I can remember a time when you had to physically walk to a desk with a computer to look up facts or directions. This was a big departure from researching with books, but it became the preferred way to do these tasks because of its ease and efficiency. In the last 10 years, these processes have already changed to being able to search for information anytime that you have your phone handy. I’ve looked up restaurant information in foreign cities, read Wikipedia from a mountaintop, and sent an email from a boat. Just imagine what this landscape will be like in the next decade. It sounds both powerful and overwhelming.

Let’s take a quick look at the mobile phone revolution, and how it went from interesting technology to a must have. Mobile phones began to get screen support and access to the web in the early 2000s. We then saw the potential of the mobile device being connected to the internet. As mobile screens improved and speeds increased, the demand became even more palpable and companies scrambled to replicate their website into an app or page on the mobile web. This led to expensive, bloated applications that missed the mark and tried to do too much with poor user experiences. Everyone quickly pivoted to hyper-specific applications—anyone remember “Yo” and its way too minimal messaging? That approach also missed the mark. After significant amounts of money was spent, and even more code was written, companies began to understand what mobile meant for their brand and how personal the application experience should be. This did not replace the website, but complemented it. It allowed consumers to experience their favorite brands the way they wanted too.

Voice assistants and Natural Language Processing have now entered our world—and will likely become a main point of contact for your brand one day. Let’s learn from the past, and think about how we can effectively leverage the voice platform. Bringing voice capability into your brand should not replace what you are doing, but should enhance it. If you are a brand, dip your toes into voice now. Start small, see what works, and what doesn’t. Usage should feel natural and responses should delight the user. Remember, it didn’t make sense to have large website-like navigation structures or hover your mouse on mobile, so new patterns like tab bars and pinch to zoom were created. Approach voice with the understanding of how people interact, derive information, complete tasks, and speak with your brand. Getting a taxi went from making a call or sticking your arm up, with payment in cash to Uber creating an app that allows you to get a ride from wherever you are and pay with a couple taps. Uber’s voice skills now allow you to get a ride and pay simply by asking—you don’t even need to pick up a device.

If you aren’t thinking about voice, someone else will—and will have a great product in place by the time you start. Don’t wait until it becomes a necessity, be proactive and understand the platform. Think of the tasks that lend themselves to voice, and begin the discovery phase now. A focused, well executed experience will carry into the future. 


Need help with your brand’s voice strategy? Be sure to contact our team – we have experts working on voice experiences day in and day out, and we would love to explore how voice could fit within your customer experience.

Bryan Clark

Bryan Clark

Bryan is the Director of Technology at Wunderman Thompson Mobile. He created an iPad app that held the #2 spot in the App Store and is a driven software development leader with extensive experience in mobile development and voice experiences. He has a passion for innovation and a deep understanding of why users love a product and why developers love creating them.
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