I spend a lot of time talking to businesses about the POTENTIAL of Smart Speakers and Voice First tech… gazing wistfully into the future and trying to predict how a voice-activated world might look. Sometimes however, you have to focus on the now.
I spoke recently to an Amazon Architect who confessed that use of their Alexa devices is still pretty basic. People make simple requests and rarely interact with their Voice Assistant in the way intended. This is certainly backed up by Alexa Skills retention rates which are, at best, poor with only 2% of Skills being continually used 2 weeks after they are first enabled.
Yet reportedly, in the US alone, 43.7 million people already have a Smart Speaker device in their home with that number set to soar to cover half of ALL consumers by the end of 2018. So what are people ACTUALLY using them for?
Now, new research for Adobe Analytics (in the US) backs up the suggestion that for all the exciting potential functionality that Voice offers, the reality is pretty boring.
It would appear that one of the most powerful devices in the Internet of Things is being used for the most mundane of tasks; asking for weather, playing music and setting timers… it doesn’t feel like the life-changing technology we were all promised right?
However, there are more promising signs amongst the research too. Smart Speaker usage is on the rise. This is partly down to increased market distribution but also down to owners becoming more and more familiar with what their devices can do, the way they work and making them part of their daily routines.
A glance at the “Emerging Activities” section of the graph above shows that slowly and surely people are demanding more from their devices and pushing them further in terms of what they can do. 17% of people will order takeout via their device, 20% are playing games and 30% are using them for shopping – one of the main intended uses when Amazon launched Alexa back in 2013.
Louis Georgiou of Code Computerlove, who conducted a similar usage survey, concluded that these new usage statistics show we have only seen the tip of the Voice Assistant iceberg:
“A lot of people are banking on home speakers being the future of home automation — and they are certainly making progress in helping homeowners link all their smart technology together. But I think this survey reinforces that we’re probably not using the technology to its full capabilities. We’re still quite conservative and limited in the tasks we’re asking our devices to perform. My prediction is that we’ll see a move toward more valuable and worthwhile interactions.”
Convincing Smart Speaker owners to complete more complex, and worthwhile, tasks on their Amazon Echo or Google Home device isn’t all down to trust and familiarity. Developers still need to offer solutions that prove these devices can do more than perform basic functions. What can they do better than the other devices competing for attention in our busy lives?
In my opinion, three things need to happen before we fully see Smart Speaker’s fulfilling their potential and begin to replace mobile phone and tablets. (Although there has been some evidence to suggest this is happening already which you can read about here).
1) Devices must feel simpler to use. The current requirement for a user to remember specific commands to access specific skills is currently cumbersome and unnatural and this needs to change.
2) Amazon Alexa and Google Home must react better. We live in an on-demand world where users require instant gratification. Hearing Alexa reply “Sorry, I don’t know that one” to a simple request is frustrating at best and at worst, impacting future use. Understanding of natural language and regional dialect is improving every day but so must these devices ability to ‘translate’ a command and direct it correctly without encountering errors. One of the BIG selling points for such devices is the speed at which information can be accessed so these process must be fast and fluid.
3) Smart Speakers must SOLVE problems. Voice Apps must emerge that genuinely provide a better solution to a problem than anything else at a users disposal. As a music player, they enable hands-free access to a world library of music and it’s a winning position. What other functions can Voice perform in a smarter and better way than their traditional screen-based brothers?