Is Voice Assistant Technology Here To Stay?

It's often the case that the latest tech breakthrough amounts to little more than a cheap gimmick. Fads come and go, take anyone who purchased a 3D TV when they were all the rage and ask how much they use it now, or look out the window and see how many people are still catching Pokémon in the streets.

By their very nature, technological trends are often short-lived because something bigger, better or shinier comes out a year later. Every now and then though, something comes along and completely changes the way in which we interact with the world. Think iPhones, the first electric car or even the internet.

When compared with those iconic symbols of the 21st-century invention, one might expect the next in the list to have the immediate impacts they did. However, there has been an emergence of a technology that truly does have the potential to follow in these footsteps, but has been largely ignored by the mainstream consumer. That is voice assistant technology.

Listen Close… A Brief History of Voice Assistant Devices

Virtual assistants have made massive strides since their creation. The first iterations were made in the sixties, but it's only in the past decade that the tech has become available en masse to the consumer market. If you own a smartphone, you probably have Alexa, Siri or the Google voice assistant preinstalled. The introduction of voice assistants to portable devices has proved to be a popular combination and this is reflected when we examine the global markets for voice tech users.

The Asian-Pacific has the most regular users with a huge 52% and the top two countries for voice tech use are India and China, with rates of 58% and 57% respectively. Western markets are lower with just under half using voice tech in North and South America, while Europe lags behind at just 28%.

These numbers indicate a significant amount of growth in a relatively short space of time. The link between this rapid growth and the ease of accessibility granted by smartphones is undeniable.

On the Go - Mobile Voice Assistant Devices 

Virtually every current gen smartphone in the world has some form of built-in voice assistant tech. Mobile users are much more likely to utilise this regularly and the benefits available to them are already proving invaluable.

One of the most useful applications for this technology is found in directions. Navigation software has been around for decades, but now dedicated products like sat-navs are being made obsolete by the same software becoming available on handheld devices.

Imagine then, what happens when you combine the mass availability of the smartphone with the ease of access of voice assistant technology. Not only is it quicker to input locations via voice, but it’s also safer as well. It’s essentially the purest form of hands-free ever conceived; no physical interaction is needed and you don’t even have to look at the screen when inputting commands.

This is just one example of many of how this technology can interact with mobile devices. However, voice tech isn’t just limited to our pockets. We’re now starting to see the rise of the smart house and it’s here voice tech seems right at home.

Which Brands Live in Your Household?

Amazon Alexa

The smart home can control nearly every aspect of an individual’s domestic life but for voice assistant technology, success starts in the grocery aisle. The household goods sector is perfect for the capacity of current devices because of the convenience of being able to purchase through a voice command.

This has benefitted one brand more than any other. For Amazon, dedicated voice tech has become a vital part of their business strategy. Their system, Amazon Alexa, is integrated into their popular Echo smart speaker range and Amazon are the most visited retail and commerce site globally. This has become a profitable combination.

When you query Alexa about a product, she will take you to the Amazon marketplace page for that item. This means anything you order through an Echo or Alexa integrated device is a sale conversion for the company.

And it seems that the potential for voice assistant devices is not lost on the company. Consider this example; You want to bake a cake but don’t have any eggs of flour. With Alexa, all you’d need to do is say what you want and the quantity of the item. Add Amazon Prime on top of this and the order could arrive within the hour it was placed.

Alexa seems to be an integral part of Amazon's plans for the future and, despite being in its preliminary stages, the technology is already a massive success for the company. The numbers speak for themselves, 44% of voice tech users have purchased online groceries in and 32% have researched grocery products online in the past six months, though the latter group purchase more than they research at a ratio of 1.22 to 1.  

Simply put, nearly half of all voice tech users do online groceries. If the company can direct all of this use through Alexa, then the potential profit suddenly increases exponentially. Amazon already have a tight grip on the market, but their success will only grow as voice tech use expands. Their approach has been so revolutionary that other names in the industry that have had this technology for longer are now playing catch up. That’s not to say they aren’t trying though.

Siri, Bixby and the Google Voice Assistant

While Amazon have cornered the smart home market, other companies are finding great success with mobile handsets. Google is the default voice assistant for Android, which makes up a massive percentage of the mobile market.

Samsung do have their own dedicated tech, Bixby, and Amazon’s Alexa is available on Android, but you have to manually change to these. Unless they offer something different or incentivise its use though, Google voice assistant looks set to dominate that market in years to come.

Apple have Siri, but the generally innovative iPhone maker hasn’t made as much progress as other companies. However, they have announced the home pod, their own home automation system, and are reportedly pumping a significant amount of resources into improving their voice assistant technology for this.

Lost in the Noise - Where Voice Tech fails

There are things that the current technology falls short on though. Voice assistants struggle when delivering large amounts of information or when relaying in a list format. This hinders those who want to do a significant amount of research before buying a product. As such, VA technology in its current form is unsuitable when trying to convert sales for specialist equipment or very large purchases.

In fact, when comparing to those with voice tech who purchased groceries in the last six months to those who’ve purchased electronics, the numbers fall sharply. A third of people researched these products with 27% making a purchase. This clearly shows that voice tech stumbles when dealing with complex queries.

Another issue is that, while those with an interest in cutting-edge tech are likely to own and utilise voice assistant technology, there is a large level of distrust in the general public concerning the information they gather and how it is used.

Over 60% of both mobile and smart home users were concerned that personal data collected by these devices would be used by companies and the same number worried about the internet eroding their personal privacy.

What’s interesting is that these users were also much more likely to have their own security in place to safeguard their digital footprint. Over 70% use a private browsing when online, 68% use an ad blocker, 67% delete cookies from their browser and 55% use a VPN.

This is something that the innovators of the industry need to address. Public trust of companies and their use of consumer data is at an all-time low and people are actively taking steps to protect their online profile. While this shouldn’t be a problem for their tech-savvy core demographic, if companies want to make the most of voice assistant devices, they’ll have to change public opinion. If they do overcome this hurdle though, there is the potential for monumental success.

Spread the Word

Voice tech is here to stay. With the voice assistant for Android, Apple and Amazon all becoming massive parts of these companies, the tech has firmly established itself in the business strategies of these companies. When first introduced, many saw it as nothing more than a passing novelty. Now though, its established as one of the most exciting branches of the tech industry and seems certain to make a lasting mark on society.

Of course, Google is having a big say when it comes to voice assistant technology. The online giant recently celebrated their 20th birthday, so we took a look at how the search engine has evolved