With Christmas fast approaching and the daily use of voice assistants in the UK continuing to rise, we wonder how many stockings will be stuffed with brand new Alexas, Google Homes, or Apple Homepods this year; and just how satisfied their recipients will be.
The tech is growing in popularity and the way people use the tools is being researched. Findings released in October 2019 from digital agency Code Computerlove and media agency Mediacom North revealed that from 1,000 UK smart speaker owners surveyed, seven out of 10 used voice-controlled devices on a daily basis – up from four 10 years ago.
A look at the voice search stats
93 per cent of voice device owners reported using the tech at least once a week – up from 83 per cent in 2018, and one in five people considered themselves heavy users – interacting with their voice assistant at least five times per day. Furthermore, 32 per cent of respondents said they have more than one device in their home.
A couple of months ago, Amazon’s Alexa ranked as the most popular voice assistant (80 per cent of those surveyed owned this device) followed by Google Home (28 per cent) and then Apple Homepod (3 per cent). Interestingly, 18 to 24-year-olds appeared more likely than other age groups to prefer Google Home (it’s the preference for 43 per cent of this age group). This is similar to last year’s results, although the percentage of people saying they own an Apple Homepod has shrunk.
of voice device owners reported using the tech at least once a week
From high tech novelty to everyday device
The figures give an overview of how the land lies at present, but what are people actually asking their assistants to find? Predominantly, the devices are being given one-off tasks and apparently, aren’t being stretched to their full potential. The most popular instructions are related to playing music or providing information, with users asking devices to find certain tunes, play a particular radio station, find news, relay weather forecasts and deliver facts. All these searches have seen substantial year-on-year increases.
However smaller increases were reported for users making purchases or ordering takeaways via their voice assistant, with the percentage of people using smart speakers for these tasks both remaining under 10 per cent.
The assistants are timing the boiling of eggs (24 per cent use the egg timer function – up from 20 per cent in 2018), and games played on voice devices have tripled, whilst listening to podcasts and audiobooks has also doubled.
As for use location, the living room still comes in at number one (same as last year), at 68 per cent, followed by the kitchen (40 per cent), and then the bedroom (37 per cent, up from 26 per cent in 2018).
Without a doubt, voice assistant devices are being increasingly used in our homes, but many people chatting away to them still have their concerns. More than three-quarters of Brits suspect that home voice assistants might listen to and store their private conversations – a similar level of concern as reported last year.
Despite this, only 14 per cent have stated that they’ve changed the privacy settings on their home voice devices, which suggests that whilst concern is there, knowledge of how to better protect private data is lacking – and while there’s been a decrease in the number of people saying their assistants don’t understand them or get answers wrong, more people are using the tech less, for fear of voice assistants collecting their data.
However, on the whole, sales and usage figures are on the rise. Novel, useful, convenient and affordable, they’ll undoubtably be presented as gifts to people this year who didn’t even realise that a voice assistant was on their wish list.
That said, simply being given devices won’t make us all voice assistant converts if we don’t trust, and consequently, use them. What if, when you ask your gadget a question, it responds with an answer related to ‘fake news’, or tells you that the answer ‘can’t be disclosed’?
Over the next few years, ethical challenges will have to be addressed by tech developers as consumers and businesses decide what is appropriate and what is not.
With the lion share of Alexa users still not making voice-controlled purchases – even though the assistant is linked by its very nature to the owner’s Amazon account – the online retail giant will have to address its users’ ‘fear of the unknown.’
Also, for the meantime, these devices make their suggestions and recommendations at a base, data level. Personal preference can’t yet be considered by the VA…as I say, for now. No doubt soon, Alexa and her contemporaries will be heavily invested in and programmed to engage with us more meaningfully, appropriately and relevantly. Answers deemed to be potentially sexist will be adapted, skills will be built-in to offer better responses to common questions. Useful? Scary? No matter what you feel, it’s the direction we seem to be heading in and once the industry gets the fine-tuning right, future Christmases will almost certainly have voice assistants sharing the season as part of the family.