December 19, 2022
Ofcom says that the latest industry data shows that smart speaker ownership nearly doubled during the pandemic, increasing from 22% of households in 2020 to 39% earlier this year.
Ofcom commissioned Community Research to explore how and why users acquired smart speakers, how they routinely use them, and their broader attitudes and experiences of their device. It also looked at how users access and consume content on their smart speaker, including music, radio and news.
The research consisted of a three-week 100-person online forum with smart speaker users, followed by focus groups with around half the forum participants. The research also included 15 depth interviews with non-users of smart speakers. These participants were sent smart speakers to try out, and follow-up interviews captured their experiences.
Key findings from the research:
- research participants said that they mainly use their smart speakers to listen to music, radio, news and weather updates; latest industry figures show that 13% of all radio listening hours are now via smart speakers; people generally feel they listen to the radio more than they had done before, and said their smart speaker allows them to listen to a wider range of stations than previously;
- some described their speaker as being like a companion, particularly if they live alone; they feel it wisas good for combatting loneliness and like the fact they can talk to their speakers;
- some disabled people said that a smart speaker had had a significant impact on their lives, giving them greater independence and helping them manage, and even improve, their conditions and abilities;
- those without a smart speaker said that they either do not see the point or see it as a luxury rather than a necessity; a few were concerned about being listened to, although this is more of a secondary concern rather than a main barrier;
- the feeling of being listened to is exacerbated for some by their speaker sometimes talking even when the “wake word” had not been used; some people expressed concerns about the potential for criminals to use smart speakers to steal data and hack their systems, potentially to steal identities or bank details; however, most use their speakers with little concern and do not think about risks on a day-to-day basis.
- a large proportion of participants anthropomorphise their smart speakers, referring to them as “he” or “she”; some people also ask questions in a conversational manner, say “please” and “thank you”, and even read “intent” or “personality” in responses and mistakes; however, not everyone feels affectionate towards their smart speaker, seeing it more of a servant than a helpful friend;
- the latest data shows that 27% of smart speaker owners get their news from their device; most research participants see their smart speaker news as an addition, rather than alternative, to more in-depth news coverage, using it for instant headlines, but returning to TV, print or online news for more detail if needed; and
- there was a mix of views as to the extent that people like their speakers to personalise or tailor their content; some appreciate the improved user experience they feel this gives them, while others find it unsettling and dislike relinquishing too much control.