Explosive Growth Eyed for Voice Assistants

The number of digital assistants in use worldwide will exceed 7.5 billion by 2021, according to a new report from Ovum.

The report, Ovum's "Digital Assistant and Voice AI-Capable Forecast," also points out the expected number of digital assistants within five years will exceed today's world population, meaning that many people will have more than one digital assistant.

Ovum predicts that Google, Samsung, and Apple will be the dominant voice AI providers, with Amazon and Microsoft lagging far behind. Google Assistant is expected to capture almost one quarter of the total worldwide market (23.3 percent), with Samsung's Bixby at 14.5 percent, just ahead of Apple's Siri (13.1 percent). Amazon's Alexa and Microsoft's Cortana are expected to have less than 4 percent of the market, at 3.9 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively.

"Ultimately, a digital assistant is just another user interface," said Ronan de Renesse, Ovum practice leader for consumer technology, in a statement. "It will only be as good as the ecosystem of devices and services that it is compatible with. Partnerships between tech giants and local service providers will therefore be key differentiators."

de Renesse added: "There is a disconnect between the 'know-it-all, do-it-all' approach that current digital assistants are aiming toward and the highly personalized virtual assistance experience that consumers have dreams/nightmares about. Whoever can bring personal consumer data in a secure, non-creepy way to digital assistance will be able to bridge that gap and capture most of the opportunity."

Though most AIs will be deployed on smartphones, according to Ovum, there will also be significant deployments of AIs not only in devices like Google Home, but also through newer devices, including wearables, TV set top boxes, and others. Ovum expects that the growth of AI-enabled television devices will grow as much as tenfold by 2021 and will represent 57 percent of the TV-related install base by the end of the forecast period.

The Ovum research adds that native vendor-led implementations will be critical to gather the contextual and personal data that will feed the AI engines, pointing to the newly launched Samsung and Apple devices as examples.

At the end of 2016, more than 95 percent of the installed base for Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant was in North America, compared to 24 percent for Apple's Siri. But this distribution will change greatly by 2021, according to Ovum. At that time, 47.6 percent of voice AI-capable devices in use will be in Asia and Oceania.

With an active installed base close to 1.2 billion devices in 2021, digital assistants of Chinese origin are set to be as powerful as Apple's Siri or Samsung's Bixby, Ovum adds. They already accounted for close to 43 million devices in 2016, led by companies such as Baidu and iFlytek.

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