Over the past few months, a few of my PagerDuty colleagues and I have been exploring the potential of voice user interfaces for IT operations. We wrote an article describing our journey, which you can check out at The New Stack: VoiceOps: Virtual Assistants for IT Ops Environments.
I've been following the recent proliferation of virtual assistant-enabled consumer hardware with growing interest. Not only does this trend pose interesting new possibilities for UX designers, I believe the entire ecosystem of virtual assistants and third-party capabilities is a greenfield of opportunity.
I have a hypothesis that, In order to reach their full potential, virtual assistants ought to continually compete for our loyalty by striving to outdo each other with the quality of their user experience. In my ideal future, service providers such as Fandango and Expedia provide APIs that any virtual assistant can use. Consumers would then be free to choose a virtual assistant based on how well it makes use of these universally available services, how well it takes into account what it already knows about the user, how it respects its user's dignity and privacy, and the appeal of its "personality."
The more disappointing alternative future I can imagine forces service providers to create a different app for each proprietary assistant system they want to support. Each provider will do their own calculation of which assistant to prioritize, and it will quickly become impossible for innovators to disrupt the leader in the virtual assistant space. This seems the more likely future, if only because the big players building assistants have a business incentive to suppress competition. For the sake of the field's potential, I hope that they take the high road.