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Alexa, Are You Listening? How People Use Voice Assistants

July 30, 2019

People use digital assistants to find information and complete basic tasks, according to a survey of 581 people in the U.S. As the popularity of AI devices in the home continues to grow, people weigh privacy concerns with the benefits their digital assistants provide. Still, people may not be taking full advantage of what their digital assistants have to offer. 

By 2023, 8 billion digital assistants will be in use
 
Artificial intelligence (AI)-powered digital assistants, commonly referred to as virtual assistants or voice assistants, are devices that respond to voice commands and assist users in their daily lives by answering questions and completing simple tasks.
 
With brands like Amazon, Google, and Apple investing resources in creating the ultimate AI “friend,” voice assistants’ capabilities are growing quickly.
 
Clutch surveyed 581 people in the U.S. about how they use voice assistants and the security concerns they have when using their devices.
 
We found that people use voice assistants to answer questions and complete basic tasks but are still worried about potential privacy concerns such as the digital assistant recording conversations or leaking personal information.  
 
While many people with a virtual assistant own more than one, these devices still aren’t part of people’s everyday routines, and they are not using them to their full advantage.  

Our Findings

  • Nearly half of people (48%) own a voice assistant, and one-third (33%) plan to purchase one within the next three years, demonstrating the popularity of AI devices.
  • As the original voice assistant device, Amazon Echo dominates the voice assistant market. Eighty-five percent (85%) of people are familiar with Echo, more than the number who are familiar with Google Home (71%) or Apple HomePod (30%).
  • More than two-thirds of people (69%) use their voice assistant at least once a day. The 31% of people who do not use their digital assistant every day are not taking full advantage of the technology.
  • Around three-quarters of people who own a voice assistant (71%) have more than one, as people want access to its features in various locations – for example, both in the kitchen and in a bedroom.
  • Nearly half of people (46%) say that a personal recommendation contributed to their decision to purchase a voice assistant, demonstrating the value of word-of-mouth advertising for digital assistants.
  • Nearly half of people (47%) believe the primary advantage of using a voice assistant is answering questions in real time, demonstrating people’s expectations for immediate access to information.
  • People are equally concerned about voice assistants storing personal information (31%) and recording conversations (30%) without their knowledge. 

More People Purchasing Virtual Assistants as AI Improves 

More people are investing in and plan to invest in digital assistants as AI becomes increasingly helpful.
 
Today, almost half of people (48%) own a digital assistant.
 
48% of people own a digital assistant.
 
In addition, one-third of people (33%) plan to buy a digital assistant in the next three years.
 
Voice assistants such as Amazon Echo and Google Home give people access to information on demand, search the web, and complete tasks such as playing music, setting alarms, and telling jokes.
 
As voice recognition becomes more accurate, the user experience of voice assistants improves.

For example, using Alexa, people can check their credit score, learn how much is in their car, and hear expert opinions on what wine goes best with dinner. 

Shayne Sherman, CEO of TechLoris, a blog dedicated to solving PC problems, explains how his digital assistant allows him to access the internet without being distracted by work.  

“Because I run a business, I'm often away from home working. So, when I am home, I power off my phone and computer to be fully present,” Sherman said. “Having Google Home still allows me to satisfy the occasional curiosity or jam out to a song with my little kid -- without risking turning on my computer and seeing an urgent notification.”
 
Sherman values how his voice assistant helps him separate work from family while still providing access to the information on demand. 

More people are buying digital assistants because they can access the internet and respond to questions in real time.

People Recognize Amazon Echo More Than Other Digital Assistants 

Almost everyone is familiar with digital assistants, and people mostly associate them with Amazon Echo.
 
Amazon Echo was the first mainstream voice assistant, which may explain why people are more familiar with it than with other voice assistants.  
 
Digital Assistants People Are Most Familiar With
 
Almost three-quarters of people (71%) also are familiar with Google Home, while only 30% are familiar with Apple HomePod.
 
Although the Echo, HomePod, and Home all can complete basic tasks such as playing music and answering questions and commands, each has distinct advantages.
 
Amazon Echo, for example, offers the best device connection to other smart home devices. Google Home, on the other hand, can answer the most complex questions, and Apple HomePod provides the clearest sound.
 
Amazon Echo dominates as the most familiar voice assistant brand, demonstrating how people associate Amazon as the leader in AI-powered home devices

People Use Voice Assistants Daily

Most people use their voice assistant frequently, demonstrating that people who own one have integrated them into their everyday lives.
 
Nearly 70% of people use their digital assistant every day.
 
How Frequently People Use Digital Assistants
 
The 31% of people who do not use their digital assistant every day may not be taking full advantage of the technology.
  
Brian Maya, a digital marketing associate at Invonto, an app development agency, uses his digital assistant frequently at home.
 
“Over the last year, my wife and I have consistently used our Google voice assistants a few times a day,” Maya said. “The Google Home Mini is most effectively used for simple tasks. It accurately answers simple queries, mostly to clarify information such as ‘What time is it?’ or ‘What is the weather like today?’”
 
Maya’s voice assistant supports his daily schedule and makes it easier to access information.
 
Voice assistant devices, though, can be expensive: They range between $100 and $400 for full-scale models. Surprisingly, nearly one-third of people who are willing to purchase a voice assistant do not use their devices daily, despite the significant investment.

Why People May Not Be Using Digital Assistants to Full Advantage

The reasons people do not use their digital assistant often stem from not setting up the voice assistant correctly, forgetting to use it, or preferring to manually type a question into a computer, tablet, or phone.  
 
Jeremy Rose, CEO of CertaHosting, a web hosting and management company, considers voice assistants as a supporting technology to cell phones. 
 
“In my opinion, voice assistants are a supplemental technology that won't replace my phone, but they make it easier to do some tasks such as add memos and reminders and send and answer messages and texts,” Rose said.

"Voice assistants are a supplemental technology that won't replace my phone."

When people use their digital assistants regularly, they can save time. The consulting company PwC found that around 90% of people say searching for something online is easier when using a voice assistant.
 
They discovered that 58% of people say they would rather use a voice assistant to text a friend than use their phone screen, which demonstrates a growing trust in the accuracy of the speech recognition technology that voice assistants use. 
 
As people grow more comfortable with using voice assistants to complete daily activities, they begin to understand the benefits of owning and using the device.
 
People who don’t use their digital assistant daily may be losing opportunities to make their daily tasks easier.
 
Bob Klein, CEO, of Digital Scientists, a mobile app and IoT company, thinks people do not understand the capacity of their digital assistants yet.
 
“Most people have the dumbest digital assistant where it can’t do anything besides answer generic questions,” Klein said. "I’d think it’s hard to get someone to install a skill on their digital assistant. It has to be a very compelling use case for them.”
 
Klein explains how digital assistants have the ability to perform hundreds of activities or skills, but people lack the knowledge to program them to achieve their device’s full functionality.

For example, if a family has an Amazon Echo and their dog is sick, the owners can simply ask Alexa for MyPetDoc. This skill then prompts Alexa to ask questions about the pet's conditions and find a diagnosis. If Alexa does not know the answer, then Alexa sends the owners' phone number and conversation to a veterinarian. The veterinarian can then call the owners within a few minutes. 

Still, remembering to use that specific skill can be a challenge. 
 
“Even once people do install a skill, how do they know it’s there?” Klein asked. “The digital assistant would have to remind them. These are things that are still a challenge on how to interact with that assistant.”
 
People use digital assistants to make basic tasks easier, but most fail to understand the more complex functions that a digital assistant has to offer. 

People Invest in Multiple Digital Assistants to Ensure Easy Access to the Technology  

Most people who invest in a digital assistant own more than one. If people have more than one digital assistant, they can access its functions in multiple areas of the home. 
 
Nearly three-quarters of people (71%) who own a digital assistant have multiple, which may highlight the growing demand to have a digital assistant in every room.
 
71% of people with a digital assistant own more than one.
 
When people connect multiple virtual assistants or use a virtual assistant to control other devices remotely, they rely on the internet of things (IoT) technology.
 
IoT technology allows people to connect multiple virtual assistants and create a digital network of smart devices

By having a virtual assistant connected to smart lights or smart locks, for example, you can turn on and off the lights or lock the door with a simple command.

Multiple digital assistants allow people to use their devices in all areas of their homes. People are no longer confined to asking Alexa questions in the kitchen but can seamlessly enter one room to the next without worrying about where their digital assistant is located. 

Most people invest in more than one digital assistant, which can help ensure they have access to their devices at all times. 

Features Drive Virtual Assistant Purchases, But People Also Rely on Personal Recommendations 

People consider features and personal recommendations before investing in a digital assistant.
 
The most common reason why people purchase a voice assistant is because they want access to its features (59%).

Why People Buy Digital Assistants

Almost half of people (46%) say that a friend or colleague’s recommendation contributed to their decision to buy a voice assistant, compared to only 21% of people who claimed that a commercial or advertisement contributed to their decision to purchase. 

This finding reinforces that people trust unbiased testimonials more than blatant ads when purchasing products or services. 
 
Since the person recommending the voice assistant has little to gain, his or her opinion may feel more objective than a commercial or brand-sponsored advertisement.

People Value Voice Assistants for Immediate Access to Information

Voice assistants offer a variety of functions, but people value easy access to information the most.
 
Almost half of people (47%) believe the primary advantage of using a voice assistant is immediate answers to questions, while 21% enjoy the entertainment value of the technology.
 
Top Advantages of Using Digital Assistants
 
Only 18% say the primary advantage of a voice assistant is not having to perform tasks manually.
 
Voice assistants allow users simply to ask a question and listen to a response from their device: There is no delay between wanting information, typing the question, and finding the best answer. 

People Receive Personalized Search Results From Digital Assistants

While the convenience of digital assistants is valuable, people have less control of the information they consume when they solely rely on their digital assistants for updates and answers to their questions. 

Google, for example, customizes its answers based on a user’s past 180 days of search history either through cookies or stored information. While Google has admitted that it is using less personalization than it did previously, Google still bases results on location and prior searches. 

For example, Masha Maksimava, a product and marketing expert, had previously searched for software terms. As a result, when she searched for the term, “kafka,” the first search results that appeared were of a company called Apache Kafka Software instead of the famous author. 

Google personalized search "Kafka" example

Voice search, however, does not provide visible results so people do not receive a list of alternative answers. When a voice assistant answers a query, its answer seems definite, which encourages people to think the information provided is true.

Because AI personalizes search results, a digital assistant may respond with information based on previous interactions rather than objective facts. 
 
This dynamic creates concerns about how AI-powered data filtering can lead to political and social manipulation. If people are only receiving news from preferred information sources, for example, it could be biased.
 
While people believe that access to information is the best feature of voice assistants, they also need to be wary about the potential limitations.

People Are Concerned About How Digital Assistants Secure Personal Information and Record Conversations

People want their digital assistant to store personal data but are concerned about security and the information digital assistants collect.
 
Nearly one-third of people (31%) say their primary security concern with digital assistants is ensuring the privacy of their financial and personal information.
 
Top Digital Assistant Security Concerns
 
Thirty percent (30%) of people are worried about voice assistants recording conversations without their knowledge, and 24% expressed concerns about hacking.
 
Recently, people have discovered security vulnerabilities with digital assistants:

  • Recording conversations even when owners thought they were turned off
  • “Waking” without prompting
  • Sending recordings to random contacts accidentally

For example, Echo keeps a recording of what it hears after you say its name. Amazon designed the device this way so it can keep the human recordings and better tailor its AI-powered responses. 
 
Unfortunately, the only way to get rid of audio recordings is to delete them manually. People cannot stop Alexa from recording aside from muting the microphone or unplugging it, which makes the device less useful. 
 
Digital assistants still accidentally “wake up” when they mishear a word. 

“Every now and then, Google Home will hear something that was said on TV and activate", said Lynnette Walczak, publisher of The Fun Times Guide, a network of 32 websites.“But it turns itself off within a few seconds if we don't speak to it directly.”
 
AI companies, for their part, are taking steps to address these concerns. Google, for example, changed its default settings so Google Home will not record what it hears after “Hey, Google.” If a person bought the device before the update, they can still pause recordings, but they have to change the settings manually.
 
Still, these precautions do not always keep personal information private. Amazon and Google both hire real people to transcribe conversations to help the voice assistants recognize speech patterns.
 
An employee of a Google contractor reported that he could identify who a person was by listening to the recorded conversations because they included such detailed, personal information. This shows that private information may no longer be private, especially when actual people can identify who is talking. 

An employee of a Google contractor reported that he could identify who a person was by listening to the recorded conversations.

When personal data breaches occur, it creates a conflict: Are voice assistants worth it despite the risk of privacy violations?
 
Virtual assistants can provide efficiency and access to information but may compromise information security in the process.

Virtual Assistants Continue to Improve With Artificial Intelligence

People recognize the value of investing in digital assistants as the desire to multi-task and constantly stay connected with friends continues to grow.
 
Almost half of people invest in a voice assistant currently and nearly one-third plan to invest in one in the next three years.   

Today, most people who own a digital assistant (69%) use it daily. This means, however, that over 30% of digital assistant owners are not taking full advantage of their AI investment.
 
Almost three-quarters of people who own a virtual assistant have multiple, which signals a demand for creating individual networks of devices.  

Considering 59% of people purchase a virtual assistant for its features, people value access to these features at all times.
 
Almost half of people (46%) also rely on a personal recommendation when choosing whether to purchase a digital assistant. 
 
Currently, Amazon dominates the virtual assistant marketplace, though Google is catching up. 

While people enjoy being able to access information with a simple question, they are also concerned about the possible privacy violations associated with using a voice assistant. Businesses must implement privacy policies to ensure that personal data is protected.

As the popularity of AI grows, people will begin to see it play a crucial role in their mobile apps, digital assistants, and connected devices

About the Survey

Clutch surveyed 581 people who are familiar with digital assistants and other types of IoT technology. 

Sixty-four percent (64%) of respondents are female, and 36% are male. Nearly half (47%) are ages 18-34; 35% are ages 35-54; and 18% are over the age of 55. 
 

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