Matthew Miller
Jun 20, 2017

Three-quarters of smartphone users "crave intimacy" with voice assistants

And 37 percent have said 'I love you' to the voice that lives inside their smartphone or home speaker, according to a report by JWT and Mindshare—which also has more serious findings for brands.

Three-quarters of smartphone users

Forty-two percent of global smartphone users have chatted to their voice assistant when lonely, while 29 percent report entertaining a sexual fantasy about the disembodied voice, according to 'Speak-Easy', a research report presented today at Cannes Lions by J Walter Thompson Innovation Group and Mindshare Futures.

Beyond the stats designed to be irresistible to headline writers (guilty as charged), the report also has some interesting findings that speak to how voice is changing, and will change, brand-consumer interaction, as well as some APAC-specific variations worth noting. 

For example, the companies say that the 74 percent of people who "crave intimacy" actually agreed that "if voice assistants could understand me properly and speak back to me as well as a human can, I’d use them all the time.”

Even as we await that shining day, the technology is proving useful. Nearly nine in 10 agree that “when voice technology works properly, it really simplifies my life”. Meanwhile, 45 percent of regular voice users globally say they use voice technology because it’s faster, while 35 percent admit they use it when they're feeling lazy and can’t be bothered to type.

As we've noted before, willingness to use voice technology in Asia correlates strongly with how difficult it is to type in the local language, and the report underscores that point by noting strong uptake in China and Thailand.

The report is based on a survey of 6,780 smartphone owners aged 18 and above in UK, US, Germany, Spain, Thailand, Japan, Australia, China and Singapore, plus qualitative research including a self-reported ethnographic study in the UK and focus groups with users of both Amazon's Echo/Dot and Ling Long's DingDong.

The report also draws from a "neuroscience experiment" carried out by Neuro-Insight. The report claims this showed a stronger emotional response among people who were asked a question involving a brand name than among people typing the same question. "So the act of saying a brand name appears to strengthen the pre-existing emotional associations to a greater degree than typing it," the companies conclude.

That may be someting of a stretch. Without more details of the experiment, it seems equally probable that they've merely proven that listening is more emotionally involving than writing. But even that is a potentially useful and exciting finding for brands thinking ahead to a day when more and more consumer activity is mediated through voice interactions.  

Privacy remains a concern (duh): Respondents in the UK, Germany, Spain, China and Australia named a guarantee of security as the top thing that would encourage them to use voice technology.

A very optimistic majority (53 percent) of global smartphone users think “voice technology will help people interact more with each other as they won’t always be looking down at a screen”. While we're not holding our breath on that one, here are some notable APAC-specific findings:

Australia:

  • Overall use of voice assistant technology is lower than the global average.
  • Consideration is high but currently there is lack of awareness of the benefits: 36 percent don’t see the point and 28 percent don’t expect it be any quicker.
  • Still, 38 percent will consider using it the future.

China:

  • China has the highest number of voice-technology services in the East.
  • Weekly usage of voice technology in China is 31 percent, which mirrors the global average.
  • 96 percent like the idea of customising their voice assistant’s personality to suit theirs.

Japan:

  • Adoption is broadly on a par with other markets.
  • 72 percent of regular voice users say "I would feel too embarrassed to use voice technology in public", so most usage focuses on private spaces.

Singapore:

  • Singapore has the lowest level of voice adoption of the nine countries in the study with weekly usage at 17 percent. As a largely English-speaking market, there's less of a convenience incentive for using voice than in other markets.
  • 65 percent of regular voice users say "I am worried about companies listening to the conversations I have with my voice assistant".

Thailand:

  • Thailand has embraced voice more any other Asian market.
  • Weekly usage is above the global average at 51 percent.
  • 42 percent of regular voice users say they use voice commands because "It’s cool" (versus the global average of 26 percent)

Here's the 'trailer' for the report:

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