One of the thing we sought to understand in our quantitative study of Amazon’s Echo, Apple’s Siri, and Google’s Ok Google was how often people are using their voice to interact with their devices. We did this with our early adopter panel and what I want to unpack is the usage frequency of each by those who are primary users of the voice-based UIs in question.
I want to emphasize the early adopter point here. We know frequency of usage by mainstream consumers is not that high. So the initial question I had was how much different are early adopters regarding usage frequency compared to the mainstream. One would think early adopters would be heavier users of these types of solutions across the board.
When we look at usage frequency filtered out by those who say they never use any of the above three, we get the following data. Although most people have tried Siri, it appears that, regarding frequency, the Echo is the most used voice-based user interface. There really is a lot to like about the Echo. In our quantitive interviews, we continually heard positive things from Echo owners who were impressed and found the device extremely useful in many different ways. Ok Google/Google’s voice search takes the top spot when it comes to this category by Android owners and iPhone owners mostly say they use Siri but only sometimes.
With the Echo, a key question I have is if the “very often” usage will sustain. Again, we are looking at just early adopters who get caught up in the shiny new gadget and the Echo has not been out as long as the voice-based UIs of Siri and OK Google/Google Voice. While we asked Echo owners how their usage has evolved, most said usage is staying about the same (48%) while 39% said they are using it more now than when they first bought it. This is an early sign that usage may not fade although I’d imagine Amazon needs to keep increasing the capabilities of the Echo to maintain usage.
Stepping back, the way I view the coming battle for voice-based assistants is one of tasks. Like the smartphone, which stole most of the major tasks from the PC, the voice assistant that covers the most ground regarding tasks is the one that will be “hired” by the consumer. If all a device is good at is playing a song or getting directions or returning a web search, then it will be confined to a few set of tasks. This is where the API will come in. Amazon is already letting people take Alexa (the Echo’s voice-based assistant’s name) and put the technology on anything they choose. OEMs can put the smarts of the Echo into their coffee pot, refrigerator, washing machine, car, and anything else they feel is in need of a voice-based interface. The Echo already has the largest potential ecosystem of smart home/connected home products by their support of many smart home standards. The largest is Wink (acquired by Foxconn) which has over 1.2 million active devices running Wink smart home technology. I use my Echo to control lights, tell me how much gas I have in my car thanks to the Automatic solution, turn on sprinklers, check the propane in my grill, lock my front door, and many other things thanks to the vast ecosystem of connected smart home products Amazon supports.
Both Google and Apple need to crack this wider ecosystem with their solutions or run the risk of Amazon’s technology stealing more tasks because it goes wider and deeper as the voice UI platform running on the most connected products. I’m not sure it is enough for our phones to connect to these things. I think some of this technology needs to be built into many parts of the hardware ecosystem as well. Hence, Google and Apple should strongly consider letting their voice-based platforms be portable and not just confined to their pocket computers, tablets, PCs, and whatever else. The winner here will be the one with the biggest ecosystem to capture the most potential tasks. Voice needs to be viewed, not just as a user interface, but also as an operating system.