Report: Smart speaker ownership driving voice adoption on smartphones

NPR and Edison Research have released a new “smart audio” report. It’s the third installment of research that began in 2017, intended to investigate device adoption and evolving consumer interaction with smart speakers.

Extrapolating from a sample of just over 900 respondents, the report asserts that 18 percent of all Americans now own a smart speaker, representing a projected total of roughly 43 million. This number may underestimate total US smart speaker ownership, which may be closer to 50 million or more.

As the chart indicates, owners fall into all age categories, though there are more who are over 25 than under. Indeed, there may be an unexplored correlation with life stage, home ownership or other life cycle variables. Owners with and without kids were split roughly equally, though there were more female than male owners (54 percent vs. 46 percent).

The report segments ownership and behavior into two primary categories: “first adopters” (owners for more than a year) and “early mainstream” users (less than a year). The bulk (74 percent) of survey respondents are in the latter category.

Although behaviors are similar for both groups, first adopters appear to use smart speakers more intensely but narrowly than early mainstream users, while the latter engage in a wider array of use cases. The chart below reflects early mainstream owner activities throughout the week. Interestingly, food ordering was the top weekly task.

First adopters appear to use their smart speakers primarily to listen to music and control other smart home devices. Early mainstream users are more broadly engaged with these devices as virtual assistants across a range of tasks.

Early mainstream users report “using the voice-operated assistant on your smartphone more” since buying a smart speaker (and more than first adopters). So there’s a kind of cross-platform effect boosting voice search on smartphones among this audience. They also evangelize smart speaker ownership more than first adopters.

Another interesting finding is that a substantial minority of early mainstream users were motivated to buy a smart speaker to “reduce screen time.” They also report spending less time with other technology and media since owning one.

For those smart speaker owners reporting that they’re spending less time with other media, here are the channels or devices that are seeing less time:

  1. Radio.
  2. Smartphone.
  3. Computer.
  4. Print.
  5. Tablet.
  6. TV.
  7. Sonos/other sound system.

First adopters and early mainstream users report making purchases through their smart speakers in roughly equal numbers. Early mainstream users made almost three purchases in the “past three months,” or roughly one per month. First adopters made just over two purchases in that same period. Interestingly, 37 percent of early mainstream owners reported using smart speakers for product research. While it’s not really exposed in the research, that could be either a supplement or potential substitute for search on a mobile phone or PC.

In terms of advertising/promotions on smart speakers, owners seem to be open or modestly receptive. Asked about whether they like skills or “features” created by brands for smart speakers, roughly 60 percent said they “don’t mind them.” Only 19 percent said they “hated” them, while 22 percent said they like them, which was a higher percentage than liked other ad types investigated in the research.

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