More digital assistants than people by 2021, says Ovum
More digital assistants than people by 2021 says Ovum

More digital assistants than people by 2021, says Ovum

Digital assistants will outnumber people within the next four years if the predictions in a new research report from Ovum come to pass. The report says there will be over 7.5 billion active devices by 2021, more than the 2017 world population according to the US Census Bureau.

You talkin’ to me?

The Ovum research, Digital Assistant and Voice AI–Capable Device Forecast 2016–21, notes that smartphones and tablets currently lead the AI-capable market with 3.5 billion active devices in 2016. Most of these use Google Now and Apple Siri as their digital assistant services.

But the potential scope is far wider. Ovum says that there are many more opportunities for devices to get into the digital assistant game, particularly in the home. The company claims that wearables, smart home and TV devices will have a combined installed base of 1.63 billion in 2021. That’s ten times more than in 2016.

Read more: Amazon woos Alexa developers with free AWS services

Who’s in charge?

Ovum thinks that, despite the massive growth in digital assistants, familiar names will continue to dominate the market in 2021.

The report puts Google Assistant firmly in the driving seat, saying it will have 23.3 percent market share. Samsung’s Bixby will have 14.5 percent, Apple’s Siri 13.1 percent, Amazon’s Alexa just 3.9 percent and Microsoft’s Cortana will bring up the rear with 2.3 percent.

Digital assistant installed base by brand, 2015–21 (Credit: Ovum)

A global challenge

However, Ovum says it will be a challenge for current market leaders to reach right around the globe, pointing out that at the end of 2016, more than 95 percent of Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant take-up was confined to North America. Apple had a wider reach, with 24 percent of Siri take-up confined to that territory.

By 2021, says Ovum, 47.6 percent of all voice AI capable devices will be in Asia and Oceania. Predicting an installed base of nearly 1.2 billion in 2021, digital assistants of Chinese origin look set to challenge Siri and Samsung’s Bixby, with a predicted second place in global dominance. Ovum doesn’t believe, however, that they will challenge Google Assistant.

Already, Chinese companies including Baidu and iFlytek that offer digital assistant technology account for some 43 million devices.

Read more: Apple joins race for smart home supremacy with HomePod

Getting it right

Ovum says that native vendor-led implementations will be critical to getting things right. While most AI capability will be in the cloud, it is the local implementations that will gather contextual and personal information to feed that AI capability.

Getting things to work seamlessly will be crucial, Dominique Guinard, co-founder and chief technology officer of EVRYTHNG, creator of a platform for smart products, told Internet of Business.

“In the words of Mark Weiser, the father of ubiquitous computing, which lead on to IoT, ‘The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.’”

Guinard continued, “For IoT to blossom, the user interface and experience must be natural, calm and seamless, especially so for everyday use cases such as the smart home. The fact that voice assistants are now becoming ubiquitous is a major step towards realizing Weiser’s vision. But, we are just at the beginning of this journey: interactions need to be context-based, enhanced by AI and machine learning, rather than simply speech-recognition based, as many are today.”

Does this mean we’ll all be wandering around our homes and offices chatting more to inanimate objects than we do with other people? What kind of a future does it conjure up for the art of conversation? Hold on while I ask my digital assistant…

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