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Don’t ‘Wait and See,’ Get Ready for Voice Search and Virtual Assistants

Following Black Friday weekend Amazon announced that it had sold “millions” of Alexa-enabled devices — especially the dirt-cheap Echo Dot. Google is advertising extensively for its competitive Google Home (pictured above). Apple is rumored to be working on a Siri-based Echo competitor, and Microsoft just announced its Cortana-device strategy.

Yesterday, in San Francisco, Microsoft debuted a Cortana Devices SDK and a developer “skills kit,” which will enable third party developers to build their content or capabilities into Cortana. Microsoft also unveiled a Cortana-enabled speaker from Harman Kardon as the first of presumably many third party devices to tap Cortana’s voice search and virtual assistant capabilities.

This “device-agnostic” approach means that Cortana — and the Bing search index with it — will likely be integrated into lots of devices and a variety of device categories, which would have never happened if Microsoft had simply brought out a proprietary Echo competitor — it can still do that too.

One of the third parties that Microsoft touted during its announcement was local search provider TalkLocal, which has also been working with Alexa/Echo:

We demonstrated TalkLocal’s Cortana skill, which allows people to find local services using natural language. For example, “Hey Cortana, there’s a leak in my ceiling and it’s an emergency” gets Talk Local looking for a plumber.

Google is also very focused on bringing local search/discovery (and transactions) to Google Home, which is powered by its “Google Assistant,” also increasingly behind conventional search results. Yelp powers some of Alexa’s local results.

Agencies, publishers and others in the “local search ecosystem” cannot take a “wait and see” approach to voice search and virtual assistants. If they do they will likely be shut out. By 2020, there may well be 50 million virtual assistant devices without screens in people’s homes.

Voice search and virtual assistants and their potential impact on the market will be a prominent topic of discussion at LSA17. Don’t miss it.

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