Almost one in four Americans aged 18+ (24%) now own a smart speaker or around 60 million people, up from 21% or 53 million in 2019. As these cylindrical objects make their way into the homes of mainstream America, beyond just the early adopters, the ways they are being used are changing.
“As these devices get into the homes of people who aren’t tech forward, we’re seeing very different patterns of usage,” Edison Research Senior VP Tom Webster said Thursday while presenting the latest results from The Smart Audio Report from NPR and Edison Research.
He was joined by NPR VP of New Platform Partnerships Joel Sucherman, who said smart speakers aren’t like that air hockey table you bought last year that now sits idle in the basement. “They are your radio friend in your kitchen and your grocery list maker. They make our lives easier and a bit more fulfilling,” Sucherman said.
Amazon has the edge among owners by a nearly two to one margin over Google. And for a growing number of Americans hooked on smart speakers, just having one will no longer suffice. More than half of owners (53%) have two or more, up from 48% last year.
More than four in ten smart speaker owners (43%) say they are using them more often and 40% say about the same. “They are helping us free up our hands and, as a result, we are using them more often,” Webster said. And as Americans get more comfortable talking to inanimate objects in their homes, they’re using the voice technology on their phones more often.
Yet 31% of smart speaker owners still listen to audio most often on a smartphone, although that number is down from 37% in 2019. Meanwhile nearly one-fourth (23%) of smart speaker owners say they listen to audio most often on their smart speaker, up from 19% in 2019. And one-fourth (25%) of owners listen to audio most often on AM/FM radio, up a tad from 23% in spring 2019.
Voice assistant technology is in a state of evolution, not revolution, the national online survey found. People are using more kinds of skills and using the technology on speakers, TVs, and other devices. Almost two-thirds (63%) of the total U.S. online population 18+ say they use voice-operated personal assistants of any kind.
More than half (56%) of those who use a voice assistant on a smartphone say they keep the voice-operated personal assistant on their smartphone turned on all the time. “Each person has their own use cases for it,” Sucherman said. “There is an integration with our lives on the go.”
The voice technology in smart speakers is seen as slightly better than the same technology in smartphones, which may be due to operating systems, and environmental factors, the report says.
And smart speakers with screens play a crucial role in skill discovery; audio-first devices are perceived as easier to use than audio-only devices.
Yet despite their growing popularity, three fourths of Americans 18+ don’t own a smart speaker and it’s not because they’re unaware of them – 59% have heard about Amazon Echo or Amazon Dot devices. The top reasons for not getting one, the survey found, are privacy concerns. Two thirds (66%) of those who don’t own a smart speaker say it bothers them that voice-enabled smart speakers are always listening and 65% say they worry that hackers could use them to get access to their home or personal information. And almost six in ten (58%) say they don’t trust the companies that make the speakers to keep their information secure, while 46% say they worry that voice-enabled speakers could allow the government to listen to their private conversations.
“These are real concerns and it’s probably incumbent on the hardware manufacturers to address these issues,” Webster said.
Among non-owners of smart speakers, those who currently use voice assistants are 60% more likely than those who don't to purchase a smart speaker in the next six months.
The new findings are from The Smart Audio Report, fielded from March 31-April 1, 2020. The national online survey included 1,660 U.S. adults age 18 and older. The full study is available now at npr.org/smartaudio.
– Paul Heine