Why Alexa Still Has a Long Way to Go

Despite all the fanfare surrounding voice assistants like Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant, they just don't seem to be catching on much with consumers, according to recent research.

Credit: George W. Bailey/Shutterstock.com

(Image credit: George W. Bailey/Shutterstock.com)

So far, Alexa app store activity suggests that its users mostly appreciate being read to, with news apps, entertainment and access to podcasts being the most popular, according to a report from VoiceLabs. But like smartphone users who install new apps on their phones and end up using them once if at all, 97 percent of voice assistant users stop using voice apps within two weeks, VoiceLabs reports.

MORE: The 42 Best Amazon Alexa Skills

While their makers market the devices as a hub for controlling the smart home, less than a third of Amazon Echo and Google Home users list the capability as a reason why they like their device, VoiceLabs found.

Credit: VoiceLabs

(Image credit: VoiceLabs)

Chances are, those who own these smart home devices still aren't aware of all of their capabilities — Alexa has a whopping 7,000 skills, for example. With 6.5 million so-called "voice first" devices sold in 2016 vs. 1.7 million sold in the prior year, VoiceLabs expects the devices to get more popular in 2017. But how much buyers will actually use them is another story.

Althea Chang is Associate Director of Content Development for Consumer Reports and was previously a Senior Writer for Tom's Guide, covering mobile devices, health and fitness gadgets and car tech. 

  • Tembrock
    Yeah, not a fan of voice control in general. Use cases are very narrow. Particularly in public places. Work more on the user interface. I miss not having to stare at my device to "do a thing". Remember when you wanted to call someone and you could just blindly open your device, hold down a physical key and it would "speed dial" the person you wanted to contact? Nice right. Everything is more complicated than that and I think it's a failure of these devices as phones. How are FBI agents in the middle of a sting operation supposed to discreetly text for back up when they have to pull there device out of their pocket, shine a giant light on their face and then start tapping the screen or worse, voice to text. Didn't anyone see "The Departed?" ;)
  • Armisis
    Got three Echos. Supporting it to help get us to a computer that is like on star trek. Full voice AI.
  • J0e3gan
    I am somewhat surprised based on my experience with Google Home in multiple rooms of my house so far. Personally, I couldn't be happier about taking the plunge and get (increasing) value from it after months of use.

    But frankly I think there is low general awareness about these voice assistants(' capabilities). I do not know any non-tech types who own Google Home or Amazon Echo yet -- but think this is true even for most who own them like the article points out. Generally expectations seem low and complacency high about what should be possible beyond mobile. (i.e. Hmmm, what would I use that for?) And low market penetration means we have not seeded enough techie cross-pollination and viral conversations between non-tech types to increase the broader interest and sense of possibilities.

    Use cases for voice assistants are limited of course, but the use cases are great fits for a VUI and bad fits for a mobile device (and absolutely terrible for a desktop or laptop) by comparison. That is the point.

    Asking Google Home to tell me what to expect weather- or traffic-wise, play music, put something on my shopping list, catch me up on the news, turn down my thermostat etcetera while I am readying my kids' lunches, cooking dinner, <cough>in the bathroom</cough>, changing a diaper, or busy with countless other things is ~huge~. Who the heck wants to needlessly grab/find their phone or tablet or walk through their house or make a mental note to do so once they get a chance? Who wants to unlock a mobile device? Who wants to clean and/or dry their hands first when appropriate? Who wants to tap through screens to do what a simple, natural request can accomplish? There are oodles of common, frequent scenarios where fumbling with a mobile device is horrid compared to the UX that a voice assistant provides; and we (I personally too) have just scratched the surface of what's possible -- with current offerings and with what I believe will follow.

    I further gained an instant multi-room audio solution with Google Home that is great for me. As a long-time Google Play Music/Spotify/Pandora and Chromecast user who wanted multi-room, wireless audio without sacrificing 30 goats to Sonos, Bose et al, this was a no-brainer; and I can easily expand and/or increase the volume and fidelity of my solution with Chromecast devices and almost any other gear I want (or already have).

    Although I think the above points alone make a strong case for Google Home or Amazon Echo, it is quite clear I will get even more out of my investment by a) making it a habit to steadily identify new use cases that make sense for me and learn how to solve them with a voice assistant and 2) link it to my home automation more. This is part of high expectations and low complacency about what should be possible beyond mobile; it doesn't just happen automatically; but maybe the average buyers of these first-wave assistants didn't expect to put any work into how to best leverage them. :)