All of a sudden, it seems like Facebook, Google and Apple are climbing all over each other to own the voice interaction, and specifically, the phone conversation. They’re in a race to compete in the most valuable part of “social” — as if they’ve forgotten, until now, just how much humans ultimately value one-on-one conversation.
I see voice as the next big land grab for tech companies — and not just the established players in VoIP, but the companies at the bleeding edge of consumer and business communication. Microsoft is well-positioned after acquiring Skype in 2011, but other tech giants are catching up as they recognize the value of voice conversations. Skype has 4.9 million daily active users compared with Facebook’s 890 million, but Skype’s users are interacting in a very “Social 3.0” way that Facebook can’t touch.
Facebook has denied rumors of developing phone call capabilities since 2010, but it was only a matter of time before they realized you can’t be in the business of connecting people, particularly on mobile, without considering phone conversations. Facebook’s new app, Hello, extends the value of your social network to your voice conversations, so you can get more information about who’s calling. With Hello’s smart search bar, you can search through contacts or businesses for key information, then call with a single touch, which illustrates the deep relationship between digital and phone conversations.
Given its growth trajectory and the popularity of its standalone messaging app, it’s likely that Facebook can’t grow revenue unless it invests heavily in a true solution for conversations across text, images and, most importantly, voice. Note that Hello isn’t Facebook’s only iron in the fire when it comes to the phone — last February the company acquired WhatsApp for a cool $19 billion. The price tag was shocking at the time, but now that WhatsApp has expanded beyond a messaging app to a fully loaded communication tool for phone conversations, it makes sense.
And the trend extends beyond Facebook. Google has come out in full force when it comes to owning all communication. Its newly announced Project Fi is set to revolutionize wireless communication by improving coverage, speed, connectivity and service. This is Google’s answer to replacing Google Voice.
Apple, meanwhile, has invested in voice through its hardware and software. By releasing continuity features into Yosemite and iOS 8, Apple was ahead of the curve in easing the connection between online experiences and phone conversations. You can now have a phone conversation on any Apple device with ease.
Now that Apple is creating an ecosystem around the iPhone and the Apple Watch, the company is continuing to integrate these conversations across devices. Apple recognizes that consumers don’t just operate in a single digital or physical environment — and phone conversations transcend those different channels.
The biggest names in tech are putting tens of billions of dollars behind phone conversations. There’s still tremendous opportunity for companies to enhance everyday experiences by blending the digital and real worlds. As more digital pioneers jump on the bandwagon, it will be interesting to see who wins in the arms race for voice-to-voice conversations.