These days, you can find virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Assistant in all sorts of things, from smart speakers and smartphones to washing machines and bathroom mirrors.
The challenge isn’t finding these digitized helpers, it is finding people who use them to do much more than they could with the old clock/radio in the bedroom. A management consulting firm recently looked at heavy users of virtual assistants, defined as people who use one more than three times a day. The firm, called Activate, found that the majority of these users turned to virtual assistants to play music, get the weather, set a timer or ask questions. Activate also found that the majority of Alexa users had never used more than the basic apps that come with the device, although Amazon said its data suggested that four out of five registered Alexa customers have used at least one of the more than 30,000 “skills”—third-party apps that tap into Alexa’s voice controls to accomplish tasks—it makes available.
But while some hard-core fans are indeed tapping into advanced features of virtual assistants, like controlling the lights in their homes, for the most part, “people are still using these speakers for very routine tasks,” said Michael J. Wolf, the founder of Activate. “It’s not clear that there is something that’s going to drive people to use these.”
Some believe virtual assistant technology can be that sort of platform, and the company with the most useful assistant will gain an advantage for their other services — like internet search or online shopping. Lose that competition, however, and a company could be at the mercy of its rivals.
Paul Erickson, a senior analyst at the research firm IHS Markit, said, “The more interesting functionality is yet to come.”
For now, consumers’ satisfaction with their smart speakers—and by extension, the onboard assistants—is helped in part by the fact they didn’t pay a lot to get them into their homes.
Wakabayashi, D. & Wingfield, N. (2018, January 15). Alexa, We’re Still Trying to Figure Out What to Do with You. The New York Times.