Smart speakers have gone mainstream – if the latest Christmas sales data is anything to go by. In October 2017, Japan got in on the action with the launch of Google Home and smart speakers, or “AI speakers” as they are sometimes known, received so much attention that they were chosen as one of the buzzwords of the year.

Rakuten Recipe team members Kazuo Mukaidani and Yuki Uchida. “We want to give users the recipes they need, when they need them,” says Mukaidani.

Rakuten Recipe team members Kazuo Mukaidani and Yuki Uchida. “We want to give users the recipes they need, when they need them,” says Mukaidani.

As consumers familiarize themselves with the new technology and explore the many uses of smart speakers, one application has proven particularly popular with customers who use it in the kitchen. That is, as a tool for looking up recipes.

Rakuten Recipe is Rakuten’s haven for food lovers, home chefs and really just anyone with an empty stomach and an appetite for new flavors. The free site has collected over one million crowd-sourced recipes covering everything from fried chicken and tonkotsu ramen to matcha pudding and creme brulee. Now, kitchen masters can go recipe-hunting hands free, with the help of Rakuten Recipe for Google Home.

The new Google Assistant-enabled service launched concurrently with the Google Home lineup in Japan, as part of the initial suite of applications made available for users in the country. The service is accessed by waking any Google Assistant-enabled device and saying, “Connect to Rakuten Recipe,” or simply “Rakuten Recipe,” upon which users are prompted to select from three categories: “Menu,” “Ingredients” or “What’s cooking next door?

Vocal commands offer a unique way for users to access the information they need on Rakuten Recipe’s website

Vocal commands offer a unique way for users to access the information they need on Rakuten Recipe.

Select “Menu,” and Rakuten Recipe will narrow down the search by asking for the main theme of the meal (meat, fish, vegetables, etc.) before offering up suggested recipes. The “Ingredients” option allows users to search for recipes by listing up what they have in the fridge, while the “What’s cooking next door?” option suggests recipes that are being cooked by other users on the platform in real-time. Once a recipe is selected, detailed information is sent to the user’s device.

“We put a lot of thought into how best to utilize the power of voice commands,” says Yuki Uchida, who led the project. “We decided that a smart speaker’s best feature is its ability to connect to other devices in the house – your TV, your smartphone, the tablet in your kitchen.”

Vocal commands offer a unique way for users to access the information they need on Rakuten Recipe’s website, she says. “By making Rakuten Recipe accessible through the Google Assistant, we want to make it as easy as possible for users to access the information they need in the most convenient possible format.”

Kazuo Mukaidani, who heads up the Rakuten Recipe team, echoes this sentiment. “We want to give users the recipes they need, when they need them.”

The Rakuten Recipe crew has embraced other Google features in the past to provide better content in search results through the use of Rich Cards that include useful information such as cooking time – an undertaking that helped smooth the way for the transition to voice. “We have a reputation for taking the initiative with these sorts of projects,” says Mukaidani. “Very few companies are involved in the development of voice UX/UI at this point, so it was great to be able to start embracing things at such an early stage in the technology.”

Rakuten Recipe has collected over one million crowd-sourced recipes covering everything from fried chicken and tonkotsu ramen to matcha pudding and creme brulee.

Rakuten Recipe has collected over one million crowd-sourced recipes covering everything from fried chicken to matcha pudding.

The team was also involved in the Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) Project, an open source initiative to realize speedy page-loading times on mobile phones, implementing the technology so well that they were featured as an example of AMP best practices at Google I/O, a developer conference. Their reputation as enthusiastic early adopters of new technology has also seen them become something of a model case for other businesses to follow.

With access to users within an extensive Rakuten ecosystem, Rakuten Recipe is also expanding its user base through collaboration with other Rakuten services. Earlier in 2017, the site worked with Rakuten’s remote farming platform Ragri to help customers make use of their remotely-farmed vegetables, while ongoing collaboration with online shopping portal Rakuten Ichiba has seen Rakuten Recipe featured in product pages and promotions of gourmet and kitchenware merchants across the platform.

Rakuten Recipe’s culture of early adoption has already proven to be a winning strategy. We look forward to seeing what new tech trends the team will jump on this year.