Verto Analytics released an intriguing report revealing that 42% of U.S. smartphone owners used AI-based personal assistants an average of 10 times per month. That is 71 million people with 710 million AI-based interactions and nearly 900 million hours of use each month. These are people using Siri, Google Assistant, Google Now, Cortana and other AI assistants for nearly one billion hours each month.
Is this a lot of use? We don’t have trend data on this so we don’t know the trajectory of usage. Verto has only provided results from a single recent study of a panel of users. However, the numbers are significant. If two out of five smartphone owners are using AI personal assistants monthly, then we have confirmation of user adoption. The outstanding questions are more about trends and intensity of usage. Before Siri was launched on the iPhone 4s the usage was zero. So, we are seeing the early stages of habit formation around AI assistant usage.
In addition, we can evaluate AI personal voice assistant usage to the more established search category courtesy of Verto’s study. AI personal voice assistant usage time is 13% of search apps on mobile and 7.7% of search websites. However, AI personal assistants are used for shorter duration presumably because they are for transactional activities as opposed to investigative. When we look at sessions per month we see AI personal voice assistant usage at 10.7% of search apps but 32% of search websites. This is significant relative usage compared to the well-established search activity set.
98.6% Who Have Access Use Their Smartphone AI?
However, the 42% market adoption rate appears to be limited only by user access according to Verto. The study found that only 72 million smartphones had AI-based personal assistants available and 71 million demonstrated monthly usage. That means 98.6% of people with access to a smartphone based AI assistant used it an average of 10 times per month. This is incredible usage penetration. It also means the AI assistant user base should grow quickly as consumers upgrade their smartphones to models to those with Siri and Google Assistant access.
Then again, the accessibility of an AI smartphone based assistant is likely underreported by these numbers. Let’s assume the 71 million monthly active users is correct. The 72 million with AI assistants on smartphones almost certainly understates total access. comScore reported earlier this year that iPhone ownership in the U.S. reached an all-time high of 85.8 million devices in December 2016.
If we remove the 4.1 million older models (although some would certainly have Siri), we still have 81.7 million iPhone owners in the U.S. All of those users have Siri access and Verto rightly includes Siri in their AI assistant category. You can imagine that there are tens of millions of recent Samsung phones running Android Marshmallow or Nougat OS versions and now have Google Assistant access. So, we might be finding that 99% of people that know they have an AI assistant are using them while a large number simply are not aware of the functionality. In this instance, it is probably better to go with the 42% usage rate of all smartphone owners, which is large market adoption in its own right.
AI in Smart Speakers Used Nearly 9 Times More Frequently Than On Smartphones
The even more intriguing finding is the monthly usage rate. Verto found that active users access their AI personal assistant by smartphone about 10 times per month. That translates into about 0.33 times per day. Contrast this with another ethnographic study of smart speaker usage in the UK by Radio Centre which found far more frequent usage. Voicebot analysis of the Radio Centre data suggest that smart speaker owners use their devices an average of 2.88 times per day or about 86 times per month.
Usage data from IFTTT users would suggest even higher usage by U.S. smart speaker owners. The company acknowledges that IFTTT users may be more inclined to use technology that average users. However, its survey data suggests users may be using smart speakers like Amazon Alexa and Google Home an average of about 4.5 times per day. That would be 135 times per month.
We can conclude from these data sets that voice assistant usage frequency on smart speakers is outpacing their use on smartphones by a large margin. It also undermines “expert” claims that suggest smart speakers aren’t particularly useful because consumers already have Siri in their pocket. Apparently, Siri doesn’t get out much.
Google is Up While Siri Usage Falls
Verto also revealed some other noteworthy trends in its data set. First, the data showed a decline in Siri usage. That may be based on lower enthusiasm for Siri or it could be that smart speaker usage is displacing smartphone AI assistant usage. The exception was for navigation and maps. Siri usage remained strong in those categories. This also makes sense because a smart speaker is not going to replace that functionality that is so tied to mobile computing as opposed to home-based use cases.
By contrast, Google may be withstanding the slow displacement of its smartphone based AI assistant apps because of a broad portfolio of products in the category. The report merits being quoted at length on this topic.
“As seen in our Index rankings, amid the hype of new entrants like Alexa and the declining user base of Siri, one notable major player has secured an interesting foothold in the ecosystem: Google. Google already owns a number of different apps featured on our Index, including Google Allo, Google Now, and Google Home, which have all enjoyed modest growth in monthly unique users and engagement over the past year. This multi-app strategy has not yet been adopted by any of the other players on our Index; it’s possible that Google will try to consolidate its personal assistant app catalog and user base as it faces growing competition in this sector. And with the addition of its own home automation device, Google’s multi-app strategy may in fact be the path to market dominance.”
AI Assistants Are Getting Heavy Use
What have we learned? A lot of people use voice assistants like Siri and Google on their smartphones. And, the time of smartphone-based assistant usage is converging on one billion hours per month. However, the frequency of use of AI assistants through smart speakers far exceeds use on smartphones. Both modalities have large user bases that are integrating personal AI-based voice assistants into their daily lives.