The Next Frontier for Voice Assistants

The Next Frontier for Voice Assistants

Vehicles are the next frontier for voice assistants. Voice-recognition technology in vehicles isn’t new. In fact, as far back as 2004, companies like IBM and Honda were developing in-vehicle voice-recognition solutions for navigation. The Honda/IBM tech came standard on certain 2005 Honda and Acura models in the U.S. and Canada. In 2020, automakers are many generations into their automotive AI (artificial intelligence) tech, and voice assistants like Apple’s Siri, Amazon Alexa, and Google Assistant are being used to complete basic tasks meant to make a drive more pleasant and convenient without taking the driver’s attention off the road. One of the latest examples is Fiat Chrysler’s Uconnect 5 announcement, which connects to Alexa’s “Home to Car” functionality and is interoperable with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.


According to research from Capgemini Research Institute, about half of consumers use in-vehicle voice assistants today, but that number is expected to reach 95% by 2022. More than three-quarters (77%) say they currently use voice assistants in their vehicles to play music, check directions, or access other in-car functions, like making a phone call. Lesser-used functions of voice assistants in vehicles include integrating with at-home voice systems and booking a service appointment.


A 2019 study from J.D. Power called Voice Service in Vehicles suggests voice technology is an important factor in consumers’ automotive purchasing decisions. Almost 60% of those surveyed by J.D. Power said the availability of the same voice service they use at home in their next car increases the likelihood that they’ll buy. The percentage gets even higher amongst younger consumers—with 74% of Gen Y saying they’re more likely to purchase a car that has their preferred voice assistant built in, and 70% of Gen Z saying the same.


While it’s tempting to think first of smart speakers when thinking about which devices people are using to interact with voice assistants, Voicebot.AI research suggests it’s really connected cars that are setting the stage for most of the voice-assistant interactions today. Voicebot’s data says 114 million U.S. adults have used voice assistants in cars, compared to 57.8 million that have used a voice assistant through a smart speaker. Considering how many people own or lease vehicles, the untapped market is huge.


However, poor experiences have created distrust among some consumers. Capgemini’s research says despite the convenience voice assistants can offer, most consumers (60%) think the in-car voice experience needs improvement. Just 28% of respondents labeled their experience with this tech as “great,” although 59% did say their experiences so far have been “satisfactory.” About half said they find their in-car voice assistant to be confusing, and they prefer to manually complete tasks instead.


The ultimate goal for the companies creating these technologies and integrating them into vehicles is to build an interface that requires “zero interaction cost,” according to a Nielsen Norman Group study called Intelligent Assistants Have Poor Usability. Short of reading people’s minds, voice assistants will always have some interaction cost—i.e., some effort on the part of the user is required to communicate her intent, desire, or command. However, if the balance tips too far and the interaction cost becomes too high, users will jump ship. If the scale tips the other way, the reward of using a voice assistant to accomplish tasks while driving will be worth the effort it takes to do so.

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