On Tuesday, Bob O’Donnell wrote an insightful, high-level look on voice-based smart assistants. I want to dive a little deeper with some specific research I did on how people are using Siri and other voice assistants.
While my research on activities done most frequently with voice assistants is similar to Bob’s, I got a little more granular in the use cases.
The chart is rather self-explanatory. However, there is a pattern. Currently, the voice-based assistants we use are primarily used for automation. Better put, we simply use voice to minimize the path to the results we desire. Voice automation of tasks is the common thread of how we interact via voice with our devices.
Those who wrote in comments for the “Other” segment categorized a number of things like searching, or launching an app, etc. Still all automation tasks.
When I asked questions about frequency of usage, the vast majority do these rarely or never. However, 28% said a few times a week and 11% said daily. This relatively low usage tells me a few different things.
The first is my sense that most people don’t know all the things they can do with their voice assistants. Therefore, their willingness to explore is somewhat constrained as they may feel they need a guide. Many consumers I’ve spoken with indicate they would like a clear set of instructions or things they can ask Siri for. Apple does provide this but my sense is it isn’t obvious to many. This point also brings up a bigger one that has been on my mind for some time.
These voice-based assistants, while rooted in natural language, still have a ways to go before they fully understand all the nuances of human interaction. To use voice assistants today, we still need to understand their vernacular vs. them understanding ours. Essentially, I still have to ask in a certain way. Until we get to a point where humans can talk to their devices in whatever way they feel comfortable, then we will be getting close to this technology becoming an essential feature.
What is promising about voice technology is we have a lot of indications this is a killer feature. My benchmark for a killer feature is when it works it, blows your mind — it’s truly useful and magical. But when it doesn’t work, it makes you angry. Time and time again I see this with consumers. They love it when it works and get mad when it doesn’t. This is actually a very good sign. The experience was so great it set a new expectation. This is very hard to do to begin with. Then when that expectation is not met, anger or frustration is predictable. Like I said, this is the positive sign of an important experience.
Being able to speak to our devices in our own natural language nuances and have it work nearly perfectly every time is the combination to take voice assistance mainstream and increase daily usage.
As we move closer to artificial intelligence, our devices will not just understand us better through our communication with them, but they will also get to know us. That is, know more intimate things about us. Our likes, dislikes, habits, nuances, relationships, etc. Right now, Siri knows where I live but not why I live there. It knows my wife’s name is Jen and it thinks my office is my local tennis courts because I go there so often. This just scratches the surface of what a true assistant needs to know to be that true assistant. When I say, “Siri I’m hungry”, it would be great if she listed the places I like to eat as options, offered to order ahead, or knew my food likes and patterns to perhaps recommend a new place for me to try that got good reviews. Once our devices know us, they can start to work on our behalf in the background and offer a much deeper level of value, like a true personal assistant would. This is where we are heading, I believe. This is where the smartphone becomes even more indispensable than it is today.
The last element of this that is interesting to me relates to whoever cracks this first. This is a key battle for Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, etc., because whoever I “hire” to become my personal assistant, assuming it is the best personal assistant on the market, I will never fire it. Ask any executive and they will all tell you that, once you find a good personal assistant, you never let them go. That is why the “battle of the personal assistant” is central to consumer loyalty in the future.