Discussion Papers

No. 441: Voice Assistants in Germany (July 2019)

Authors: Serpil Taş, Christian Hildebrandt, René Arnold

(full version only available in German)


Be it Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri, Google's Assistant, Microsoft's Cortana or Samsung's Bixby: Voice assistants are becoming more and more popular. According to the survey of 3,184 consumers in Germany, which was conducted for this discussion paper, 26% already used at least one such voice assistant at the end of 2018. The adoption rate is thus similar to that of smartphones about five years after the introduction of the first wave of devices.

However, the two technologies differ critically as regards the investment and effort a consumer has to take in order to use them. With around 85% of German consumers already owning or using at least one device with a pre-installed voice assistant, they do not have to spend additional money or even to install an additional app to start using a voice assistant. The majority of current smartphones and laptops feature pre-installed voice assistants. So called smart speakers have found their way into the homes of around 11% of the respondents.

Given the penetration of devices with pre-installed voice assistants, a rapid increase in the adoption rate is possible. In light of our survey, however, such an increase is unlikely in the near future. The vast majority of non-users have no intention of using one of the five most popular voice assistants within the next year. Current usage patterns also do not point to a great influence of the assistants. Consumers use voice assistants rarely and only for about 2 to 3 functions. The most frequently used one is to request simple information from the Internet, such as the weather, sports results or the nearest petrol station. Alexa, Amazon's voice assistant, is used much more frequently on average than the other systems. The average Alexa user also relies on approximately one function more than the users of Bixby, Cortana, Google Assistant and Siri. Music streaming is particularly popular with Alexa users, be it via Amazon's own service or a third-party provider.

Multi-homing, i.e. the parallel use of several such assistants, is the exception: 78% of users rely on one voice assistant. Among the 22% of those who multi-home, there are users who choose different services for different tasks (about 7% of the surveyed users) as well as those who actually perform at least one identical function over several services (about 15% of the surveyed users). The voice assistants integrated in other devices such as cars, refrigerators or washing machines, which are often provided by third-party providers, hardly play a role in Germany.

The usage patterns observed, especially the lack of multi-homing and the close integration of popular voice assistants into larger digital ecosystems, underline the importance of the continuous monitoring of digital technologies. This is particularly true if they represent a direct customer interface and thus a possible new gatekeeper, as is the case with voice assistants. The huge number of pre-installed systems suggests that broad adoption of voice assistants could be substantially faster than with existing digital technologies as soon as the systems have the necessary appeal for consumers. Competent authorities should therefore develop forward-looking policies with regard to this upcoming categories of services.

Diskussion Paper is available for download.

See also Research brief "Canned Intelligence - Voice assistants in Germany"

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