A complete beginner’s guide to voice assistants

What is a voice assistant ?

A virtual assistant or a voice assistant (the two terms will be used interchangeably in this blog) is a software program (or agent) that can perform particular tasks or services in response to one’s voice. The specific tasks or services that these voice assistants can perform is expanding rapidly. Amazon’s Alexa devices have the capability of controlling smart homes. For instance, just by using one’s voice it is possible to control the lighting and temperature in certain rooms. The underlying software that is used in Amazon’s devices is called Alexa. Alexa is a cloud based intelligent assistant that uses natural language processing techniques to understand and respond to user queries. Amazon’s Alexa software has been deployed in all of it’s smart speaker devices, which includes the Echo and the Dot device.

Why would I need a voice assistant ?

Voice assistants such as Alexa or Google’s Allo can help keep your life organised. Instead of writing down reminders on a piece of paper, now it is possible to talk to Alexa and ask her to set reminders for a specific time.

Voice assistants can also keep you updated about things like the weather or the news by just using your voice and requesting the specific information. This will allow for better multitasking. For instance, let’s say someone is cooking and doesn’t want to check their phone or log onto their laptop to find out the latest news. Instead, they could literally just demand this information using an Amazon device with their voice. Voice assistants can also be used to download and play voice based games on smart TV’s or smartphones. Below is a pie chart that illustrates the types of apps that are present on the Amazon Alexa store.

Why are voice assistants such a big opportunity ?

By the year 2021 it is estimated that around 1.8 Billion people worldwide will use voice assistants (or virtual assistants). Today it is believed that almost 500 million people currently use or have used a voice based digital assistant either on their smartphone or smart speaker (ie Amazon Echo and Google Home). This number is expected to increase by almost a factor of 4 in the next four years. The graph below illustrates the millions of voice first devices that have been purchased since the year 2014. Close inspection of the graph reveals that voice first devices are being purchased at an exponential rate by consumers and this trend is not going to slow down anytime soon.

The future of voice assistants

Voice assistants are relatively new. Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa was launched at the end of 2014, but Amazon’s Alexa products which include the Amazon Dot and Echo devices have only just begun to be adopted by the wider public. At the moment, Alexa users are still early adopters and are mainly tech enthusiasts. As briefly mentioned above, according to Voicelabs it is expected that in 2021 around 1.8 billion people will be using search powered voice assistants.

At present, aside from selling hardware devices, companies operating in the voice assistant space such as Google and Amazon have yet to execute or reveal a long term monetisation strategy. Perhaps sometime in the near future, Amazon will make users pay for the best Alexa skills (best apps). This may be very similar to how users currently have to pay a small fee for premium apps in the apps store. Whereby, a small percentage of the app fee goes to Apple and the remainder to the developer. Only time will tell, how Amazon and Google plan to monetise their voice assistants.