Apple’s personal assistant, Siri, was blowing out its 10 candles on October 4. Coincidentally, the next day the Windows voice assistant retired: Cortana is now optional in the brand new Windows 11. A big gap that symbolizes ten ambivalent years during which voice recognition has carved out a small place, of course, but without really exciting the majority of French people.
This is not for lack of resources: Apple’s personal assistant was quickly joined by that of Google, equipping almost all smartphones. Then Amazon released speakers with a speaker, a necessary addition to voice assistants to be heard properly in the living room of a home. To them three, these big American companies have pushed the boundaries of natural language understanding dramatically with big investments.
But that was not enough: ten years later, only 52% of French adults use a personal voice assistant, according to an investigation by the Post, a figure a little overestimated because this online survey did not question the French who do not use the Internet, and who still represent 15% of the population. In addition, people who have it use it quite rarely: only a good third use it at least once a day.
Rarely at the heart of uses
A finding that matches that of another study, that of American consulting firm Perficient, which depicts a fairly occasional use of personal assistants. Both in the car and at home, the median user only uses it a few times a week. These figures are based on the responses of more than a thousand Americans, yet residing in a country where connected speakers are more popular than in France, and where personal assistants are more efficient because they speak their native language, English by default. .
In France, the use of connected speakers might even tend to decline among those who are equipped with them: the share of those who use them on a daily basis has increased from 47% in 2019 to 42% in 2020 according to the very serious Crédoc’s digital barometer (Research center for the study and observation of living conditions). It will be necessary to observe the figures for 2021 to confirm or deny this trend.
A key explanation lies in the difficulties of use presented by voice recognition. A large majority of respondents to the Perficient study express frustration when the assistant does not understand the question. Many point out that the answers are too often irrelevant.
This is the main flaw that we noted during our tests of connected speakers: it is too often necessary to reformulate the questions, repeat them and sometimes abandon them for lack of a valid answer. A quarter of respondents to a study by the CSA, the audiovisual policeman, also consider their connected speaker as a gadget. And many others fear personal data leaks, a real danger, although the risk of third-party hacking is low.
Even today, voice assistants are mainly used on smartphones. Who are the users? The 35-49 year olds use it significantly more than other age groups according to the study of the Post. Seniors use it much less, according to several studies. These figures put into perspective the idea, circulating among ergonomists, that voice assistants facilitate relationships between the elderly and electronic devices.
Where are personal assistants used? Not a lot by car: only 38% of its users use it while driving, according to La Poste. Speech recognition tends to be distracting when driving, according to half of respondents to the Perficient study.
It is mainly at home that the French who have adopted this technology use their voice assistant: 84% use it in this context, according to the Post. Ten years after the appearance of Siri, the usage figures in the public space are still quite modest: 18% of users of voice assistants only use it in the street, while half of respondents to thePerficient study find its use in this disturbing context. We note in passing that in the United States those who engage in this practice are more likely to be men with a comfortable income than women with a modest income.
The dominant uses of personal assistants seem quite basic: consulting the weather forecast, setting an alert and carrying out small factual research, such as “How old is Depardieu?” “. They are also used to start playing music tracks. It is clearly a strong point of vocal interfaces that you can choose an artist from a long list in a few seconds.
Hardly less popular is the custom of asking jokes of one’s personal assistant, which has emerged in various French and American studies. One can wonder if the users always laugh with the assistant, or sometimes at his expense. Voice text entry is still struggling to take off, according to Perficient.
Speech recognition is sure to continue to improve, but you shouldn’t expect to chat overnight with a personal assistant indistinguishable from a human, understanding everything, responding in subtle and personalized ways. Touchscreen interfaces still have long and beautiful years ahead of them.