The concept of talking to computers has been around in science fiction for decades. The ability to converse with a machine as easily and intuitively as we speak to one another has been the holy grail of user interfacing with machines for many a techie and Trekkie alike. One of the great things about science fiction? It can provide a vision of the future to which humans can aspire.
That future is, in many ways, here. Early adopters notwithstanding, millions of people either use or have used a voice assistant in some form of fashion. From Apple’s Siri to Microsoft’s Cortana and Google’s OK Google, Americans the country over talk to their devices as a way of interacting with computers or computerized services. With Amazon Echo and other home assistants making forays into the fray as well, it’s only fitting that industry analysts look into these growing trends more empirically (and closely).
In an article published in June of 2016, Re/code and Creative Strategies performed a quantitative survey analysis of voice control early adopters to see what the trend lines tell us about present and future behaviors with these technologies.
The Amazon Echo
The study found that the two most common places for the Echo was in the kitchen and in the living room:
And among those users, the three most common things people did were set a timer, play a song or control smart lights:
These statistics show, in my opinion, a strong growth opportunity for technologies like this. Bluetooth speakers have sold pretty well at retail and people clearly see the upside to having a smart speaker in common rooms. Furthermore, the integration with smart lights certainly indicates to me that having a voice interfacing smarthub anchoring the interconnected, IoT-rich, home of the future is a very real possibility (and likely a probability). This shows strong usage patterns and growth potential in this field. And, one of the top things respondents mentioned was how good the voice recognition is on the Echo — something that will only get better with age.
Siri and OK Google
Not surprisingly, Siri and OK Google’s usage patterns and trends are completely different from the Echo’s given the portable/mobile nature of the hardware. Again, the most often used features probably won’t come as a huge surprise:
Search is by far the most common task. And to be honest, many of the most used functions are relatively basic features of a smartphone (not diminishing their importance, mind you). This could be because the phone gets these right on the first try more often than not, or that more complex functionalities aren’t really supported yet, or simply that users aren’t necessarily aware of all the voice assistants can do. But, it also hints at another interesting tidbit: the majority of people use these features most in the car (51%) or at home (39%) — both of which provide the speaker with privacy. Conversely, only 6% of respondents said they commonly use a voice assistant in public. That may be a cultural problem today, but we could very easily see that shyness dissipate as even more and more people begin talking to their devices regularly.
After reading the study, I’m even more convinced voice-user interface is not only mainstream, but poised for growth (both in adoption as well as function). Some interesting final notes in the Re/code article:
Mainstream consumers seem to recognize its value and convenience. Consider these statements from consumers:
This is a huge, if still nascent, market. There’s a reason the biggest names in the tech universe have their eyes trained squarely on this technology and the resulting eco-system it could spawn/control. And, if people are still willing to work with this tech even through its hiccups and occasional frustrations, imagine how eager they will be to use a mature-lifecycle version of this technology.
Voice isn’t going anywhere; we may just get Jarvis from Ironman on our phones after all!
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