Voice-controlled timetable search based on Google Assistant

News from Google I/O

The Google I/O 2017 revealed a lot of news in the fields of machine learning and conversational interfaces. We've been working with speech-based applications for quite some time, so we were very excited about what improvements would be presented for the Google Assistant.

The possibilities to integrate an app into an Android speech assistant have been very limited. With the new release of the Actions on Google SDK, developers have many new ways to connect with the user. What's new with Google Assistant and what it means to developers and users, we've immediately explored through our speech-based timetable search.

The most exciting news is the implementation of so-called cards: they enable us to visually present additional information to the user. This is important since the user can not always be presented with all the information via spoken language in a compact and efficient way. In the case of the timetable search, it would be very tedious, for example, to read all intermediate stations via voice output. Another very interesting feature are so-called suggestion chips. These small buttons offer the user selection possibilities and are already well known from chat bots. However, it is new that this concept is used in a speech-based environment. We found in usability test that, especially in the beginning, users have trouble communicating efficiently with Conversational Interfaces. The suggestion chips support the user during the conversation with the application.

In addition, two other visual artefacts were presented: so-called carousels, a horizontal, scrollable list of cards, as well as normal, vertically oriented lists. Carousels will provide significant added value in the future, especially for shopping, as they are particularly suitable for product proposals. In contrast, lists are to be used for alternatives. They enable a classic, exclusive selection procedure.

For retail companies, however, another innovation is likely to be most interesting. Actions on Google will support transactions in the course of this year. This means that a standardized sales process will be available by voice, which supports various payment options. This includes classic credit cards, but also alternative payment methods, such as loyalty points. As it has been possible to bind a credit card to an account for a long time, the introduction of voice-controlled transactions increases the comfort for the user. With a few voice commands and clicks we can make a purchase. In addition, Actions on Google enables order updates. This means that the user can be kept up-to-date with the status of the transaction by means of a push message.

The following video shows our first test with Google Assistant using the voice-controlled timetable search. For the timetable display, we use cards and the user guidance has been improved with suggestion chips.

In conclusion, we can state that in particular cards and suggestion chips deliver a tangible added value. Starting a conversation is much easier. With suggestions, you can present the user right at the beginning with the most important functionalities and speech patterns, without tutorial. Cards allow a uniform appearance and improve the user experience. For our timetable search, lists and carousels did not provide a significant advantage, but they were particularly convincing in the field of product presentation. We're curious about how Google Assistant will interact with conventional smart phone apps, and how the associated innovations will change conventional app development.

Google I/O has confirmed to us that Conversational Interfaces will grow massively in the coming years. We are delighted to be at the forefront of this development and to offer our customers a competitive advantage.

Talk to the author