Burn your iPad: 2017 is the year of voice
A view from Andy Pemberton

Burn your iPad: 2017 is the year of voice

But beware: voice-activated tech could cause headaches for brands.

This is the year you will start screaming at your fridge. No, not because of Donald Trump or Brexit – although who could blame you if you did? – but because this is the year of voice.

2017 will be the year you switch from tapping and typing on touchscreens to simply shouting commands at any electrical appliance within earshot. Before you can say "Where’s the remote?", you’ll be changing channels on your DVR by yelling at it.

By mixing artificial intelligence, fulfilment and your purchase history, Amazon is setting itself up. It will use voice to clean up – all at FMCG brands’ expense

That’s the word, at least, from CES, the Las Vegas get-together for all things techie that was held earlier this month.

The winner of the war for voice is Amazon’s Alexa (and the loser is Apple, which has squandered its lead established by Siri). Alexa adoption is through the roof. In January 2015, about 125,000 households had Alexa installed in the US. By May 2016, that figure was just a little less than 1.75 million.

Will it work in the UK? One problem with tech nerds is that they love tech too much. So anything shiny and "awesome" is predicted to be the next big thing. Sometimes they are right. Other times, not so much. Remember Google Goggles, Snapchat Spectacles, virtual reality and 3D printing? All great inventions but commercial non-starters – at least so far.

Of course, voice is already with us. Every time you phone a company, it’s more likely than not that you will be offered the chance to bellow "YES!" when asked if you want to talk to someone in the accounts department.

As you well know, that is not much fun. Perhaps I lack imagination but I am not sure shouting orders at more inanimate objects will come under the heading of "good times" either.

There are other problems. A recent broadcast on San Diego TV station CW6 told the story of a Texan six-year-old who racked up big charges while talking to an Alexa-powered Echo gadget in her home. According to her parents’ Amazon account, their daughter said: "Can you play dollhouse with me and get me a dollhouse?" Next thing they knew, a $160 KidKraft Sparkle Mansion dollhouse arrived on their doorstep.

During that news segment, a presenter remarked: "I love the little girl saying: ‘Alexa ordered me a dollhouse.’"

That, apparently, was enough to set off Echo boxes around San Diego on their own shopping sprees. The California station said viewers complained that the broadcast caused their voice-controlled assistants to try to place orders for dollhouses on Amazon.

Not all brands are thrilled about voice. When ordering products via Alexa, you don’t see the product or the price, you just shout out what you want. Punters are more likely to shout "Alexa, buy me a choccy bar" than "Alexa, buy me a NiceBrand choccy bar". (Evidence suggests that category searches are generally more popular than brand searches.)

Cannily, Amazon is starting to get into own-label products – by 2020, its online private-label penetration in FMCG is expected to hit 25%. By mixing artificial intelligence, fulfilment and your purchase history, Amazon is setting itself up. It will use voice to clean up – all at FMCG brands’ expense. No wonder one pundit calls it the "end of the brand era".

What else will happen this year? Snapchat’s initial public offering will flop, Apple will launch its first truly mediocre product, Instagram will be huge and… and… Brexit will be put on ice and Trump will be impeached.

Yeah, well, we can hope. Alexa, get me an espresso martini and make it a large one.

Andy Pemberton is the director of Furthr
@andypemberton