Author(s): Peter Bryer
Last Friday, Microsoft released a version of its Torque app for Android devices, which had been available for Android Wear devices but not Android-based smartphones. It's a Bing-powered voice app that's similar to Apple's Siri and sits alongside Google's voice-controlled search feature on Android phones. Microsoft's Bing blog says the Android app was developed as a result of user demand.
Torque matches the specs of its competitors, able to perform basic Web searches as well as provide answers to timely questions about topics such as weather, flights and sports scores. Torque can be distinguished from Android's native OK Google function through activation by a twisting movement of the phone or opening the Torque application. Users will need to log in with their Microsoft credentials, providing the software maker with valuable data from non-Microsoft platforms.
Torque for Android phones and Wear is another signal that the trend of voice user interfaces (UIs) across domains is growing. Advanced speech recognition is allowing voice input to cut through layers of user complexities while hiding the search engine behind queries. Top search brands — Google, in most Western markets — have been front and centre in online searches until now, but a series of apps and devices for phones, homes and cars could stand to dilute this position and chip away at the dominance of leading brands. Voice input UIs provide the best opportunity for rivals like Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo to gain search share.
CCS Insight has highlighted in several of its Predictions events that speech-based UIs are being pushed to the mainstream, and consumer behaviour is changing with each new iteration (see CCS Insight Predictions for 2014 and Beyond). The recent release of Amazon's Echo — a speaker that doubles as a voice-controlled computer — demonstrates the potential for disruption in the home, putting search where it's often needed the most: in the living room. This and other living-area devices like the Ubi (see Daily Insight: Talk It Up: Voice UI Is in the House) are changing traditional PC search methods to vocal-centric experiences. The user asks and these devices retrieve and respond without referring to a specific search brand.
The notion that traditional search can sink to the background when most users' muscle memories can't help but type out "Google" seems unlikely. However, the type of interactions consumers have with their devices is likely to change as the amount of time spent searching across non-PC devices such as wearables, phones and cars increases. This is the best chance for near-term disruption in the lucrative search business. Microsoft is taking a pragmatically platform-agnostic approach with the release of Torque for Android phones. It might have limited effect on the search market in the short term, but it's part of a larger trend in breaking the top search brand values.