The market of voice-controlled assistants is on fire at the moment. Siri, Cortana, Alexa, Google Assistant, just to name a few, are the most well-known digital assistants that are currently dominating the market. Their cornerstone lies in an aim to provide a seamless and hands-free experience, which empowers us and eases our daily lives. From playing music to ordering pizza, voice assistants seem to be taking the market by storm. In 2015 1.7 million voice-first devices have been shipped, and 6.5 million in 2016, that excluding the mobile-built in voice services. VoiceLabs, a voice software start-up, foresees that by the end of 2017 more than 24 million devices will find their new families and homes, totalling at 33 million voice-first gadgets in circulation.
Despite the impressiveness of these number, a more throughout analysis reveals that no one in the market has yet achieved the true success. Namely, the biggest issues involve user retention. The same analysis has shown that most voice-controlled apps do not get many reviews, suggesting the lack of popularity. For instance, 69% of Alexa’s “skills” – aka its capabilities, have zero to none customer votes. Moreover, the study has revealed that on average only 3% of people, who begun using Alexa or Google Assistant, will be using it a week later. On mobile platforms the situation is slightly brighter, with retention rates of 13% and 11% on Android and iOS, respectively. As VoiceLabs co-founder Adam Marchick has said: “There are lots on [voice] apps out there, but they are zombie apps’.
There could be a few explanations to this phenomenon. Obviously one is that the technology is still too novel and people are not used to it. Back in 2013 85% of iPhone users have never used Siri. The market has experienced an uptake since then, with a new study finding that 60% of current voice-assistant users have started using the tool only in the past 12 months. One of the impediments is that people are yet not used to speaking to their technology, and feel ‘uncomfortable’ doing so. Although, at least a half teenagers use voice search daily, and they perceive it as natural as using social media. This means that adoption rates will certainly be increasing in the coming years, as the technology becomes less ‘novel’ or ‘alien’ and people develop new habits. However, this still leaves the retention problem.
Unlike the voice assistants on mobile devices, home assistants do not provide the visual cues that remind users that there is an ‘app for that’. So apart from being uncomfortable speaking aloud, users may simply forget and do not bother to use their devices. As such, Amazon seeks to address this issues by potentially releasing its premium Alexa speaker with a large touch screen. Although the idea may seem strange, it could work as a neat reminder to use voice command, also allowing to add unobtrusive reminder notifications, similar to mobile devices. And this could encourage more adoption through more familiar interfaces and encourage people to use assistants for more than playing music or timing cooking times.
Finally, voice assistants are simply not yet good enough. They cannot yet handle all the commands and queries thrown at them. The issues begin at interpreting accents and using multiple languages at a time and span to difficulties of natural language processing. The interaction process with any voice assistant therefore is not yet seamless. It will certainly take some more time to get there, and with machine learning these services can only get better.
Today is the day we will someday look back at and laugh at the same way we do when we think about our great-grandparents struggling with their first Ford Model T